Fresh probe to be launched over death in Svetlahorsk jail
The Svetlahorsk District Court has quashed a decision by the district department of the Investigative Committee, which earlier refused to open a criminal investigation into the death of Aliaksandr Akulich, who died while serving an administrative arrest in the detention center of the town’s police department in May 2012. The judge agreed with all the arguments of the victim’s mother and the human rights defenders of the HRC “Viasna”.
The case has received a new turn when Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court, having examined a supervisory appeal prepared by the HRC “Viasna”, on September 22 ordered cancellation of a ruling of the Svetlahorsk District Court and sending the case for a new trial in this court. In early October, the order was considered by the Presidium of the Homel Regional Court, who met it and forwarded the case to the Court of Svetlahorsk district.
As a result, Judge Iryna Aliseika cancelled the initial decision on October 24.
It is worth noting that the judge granted the complaint on all the grounds specified by the human rights defenders. In its ruling, Iryna Aliseika highlighted the contradictions which “could affect the correctness of the decision taken by employees of the Svetlahorsk department of the Investigative Committee”.
Firstly, “an additional forensics examination established a different, other than established by the initial inspections, cause of death of A.A. Akulich”. The death certificate featured “pulmonary embolism”, and expert opinion No. 72 of April 29, 2013 says it was chronic alcohol intoxication, which was complicated by the development of alcoholic delirium. We emphasize that before neither the investigation nor the court mentioned this distinction.
Secondly, the court ruling points out the contradictions in the explanations provided by employees of the detention center Stseshankou and Bachko about their use of violence against Aliaksandr Akulich. The judge concluded that they were not interviewed in detail. “For example, the inspection failed to establish how many times and in what parts of the body they inflicted strikes with a truncheon to A.A. Akulich; what manifested A.A. Akulich’s disobedience; why an ambulance was not called immediately, but after a period of time; who inflicted blows to the head and the foot of A.A. Akulich, as well as the mechanism of their infliction and the need for application of this bodily harm”.
Moreover, the judge, as previously did the human rights activists, draws attention to the fact that instead of calling an ambulance the police officers beat the detainee, who was in a morbid state.
“Significant circumstances are unclear. According to a copy of the register, A.A. Akulich was subjected to the use of special means and physical force at 12.30 a.m. on May 26, 2014. A.A. Akulich’s death was registered by a paramedic at 1.10 a.m. on May 26, 2014. No assessment was given to the validity of the application of physical force and special means from 12:30 p.m. till the moment an ambulance was called (until 1.05 a.m.) for A.A. Akulich who needed it (Stseshankou and Bachko saw A.A. Akulich’s painful condition).
The explanations provided by employees of the detention center Stseshankou and Bachko had certain contradictions. In their explanations, they indicated that before the arrival of an ambulance they provided first aid to A.A. Akulich, including CPR and chest compressions. However, according to the explanation provided by A.A. Stalbova, when the ambulance arrived, A.A. Akulich was lying with his face down, with his right arm behind his back. In such a position, artificial respiration and chest compressions were impossible”.
In addition, the judge says that the investigators failed to question the persons who were held in the same cell with Aliaksandr Akulich, as well as those held other cells of the detention center.
“With these data, the findings in the investigator’s decision to refuse to initiate criminal proceedings of October 24, 2013 in the death of A.A. Akulich are hasty and cannot be recognized well-reasoned, since they failed to eliminate the violations, did not secure an objective examination of all the evidence contained in the case file and did not given a proper assessment for a legitimate and reasonable decision,” says the decision of Judge Iryna Aliseika.
Separately, she notes that the investigating authorities did not evaluate the actions of Stseshankou and Bachko in the context of implementation of the requirements of Article 23 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus of “On the Bodies of the Interior of the Republic of Belarus”, namely, the duty of immediate medical and other appropriate assistance to a person in a helpless or dangerous condition, as well as the requirements of Article 26 – the legality of the use of special means and physical force, as well as measures for immediate medical assistance, which is Aliaksandr Akulich obviously needed.
The ruling of the Svetlahorsk District Court came into force on November 4, 2014. The case materials were sent for further verification.
Human rights activists of the HRC “Viasna” believe that the judge’s ruling gives hope for an objective examination of the case, but the possibilities for an objective investigation are disappearing, because people begin forgetting events, it is becoming harder to find people who were in the detention center on the day of Aliaksandr Akulich’s death etc.
However, neither the mother of the victim nor the HRC “Viasna” are going to stop and intend to use all possible mechanisms, including international bodies.