Lawyer Pavel Sapelka: State has replaced the system of parole with giveaway amnesties
May 13 The House of Representatives of the National Assembly adopted in the first and second reading a bill on amnesty in connection with the 70th anniversary of the Victory. According to the Minister of Internal Affairs Ihar Shunevich if the amnesty law comes into force, it will concern some 8,600 convicts, 2.2 thousand which will be released from prison. Will there be political prisoners among them?
At present, Belarusian human rights activists consider as political prisoners Mikalai Statkevich, Yury Rubtsou, Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Yauhen Vaskovich and Artsiom Prakapenka. Lawyer and activist of "Viasna" Pavel Sapelka beieves that none of them should count on it.
Sapelka: None of them can be released under the current amnesty, as they are considered to be persons who maliciously violate the order of serving the sentence. Statkevich has been again transferred to prison for it, Dziadok got his term increased by a year, Alinevich is often punished with penal cell, Prakapenka has been recently denied amnesty, which means he is also a malignant offender. The only one about whom I am not sure is Yauhen Vaskovich. Last year he was transferred from prison to penal colony, recently he has had a meeting with his parents. That's why the situation is not that certain here.
Reporter: Can we count on amnesty for former human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka, sentenced to 3 years in prison for hooliganism?
Sapelka: It depends on whether has admonitions for violations of the internal regulations of the correctiona facility. If he has not or they do not suffice for counting him a malignant violator, the amnesty can be applied to him. According to our information, he has been held in the penal cell not for violations, but on his own request, as a measure of safety. However, we need to examine his case in order to say for sure.
Reporter: Yury Rubtsou, sentenced to personal restraint, has been keeping a hunger-strike in Baranavičy remand prison for the second month already. At present, he is under investigation. Can he count on amnesty at least in the first case, according to which he has been sentenced to personal restraint?
Sapelka: No, he cant, because according to the law on amnesty he has violated the order of serving punishment of restraint of liberty. As for the new criminal case against him, the court will decide whether he falls under the amnesty while delivering the sentence.
Reporter: Who of defendants in the high-profile economic and corruption cases can count on the amnesty? For instance, the lawyer of ex-General Director of "Barysaŭdreŭ" Maltsau said that his client can count on an amnesty...
Sapelka: "Viasna" does not track the fate of defendants in cases that we do not define as politically motivated. However, it mostly depends on the way how the convicted person is serving his sentence. If one hasn't received admonitions while serving his term, the amnesty will be used. Of course, the amnesty doesn't cover certain crimes at all, such as murders with aggravating circumstances. As for corrupted officials, I track some cases as a former defense lawyer. Probably, two employees of the Ministry of Justice (Head of Licensing Department and her deputy), who have been recently convicted of bribery, can expect the decrease of their sentences by a year. After all, most likely they haven't yet started serving their terms, which means that they haven't violated the order of their serving.
Reporter: How would you comment on the amnesty bill in general?
Sapelka: This bill is very similar to the previous one, with minor changes, which are directed at forcing prisoners to implementing their financial obligations, i.e. compensation for losses. Most often this burden falls not on the convicted persons, but on their families.
I think the amnesty laws is not the thing which is necessary for the penitentiary system in Belarus. Instead, it needs a clear system of early release, primarily dependent on the behavior of the prisoner and his corrections. And these gifts from the state ... Thanks, of course, that it will offload correctional facilities and several thousand people will no longer suffer there. This is good. But, to my mind, the procedure of early release should be organized another way round, by mitigation of the sentences, release through parole or the cessation of serving the sentence for health reasons. There are enough laws and regulations for it, but they often do not work. In particular, the termination of punishment as a result of serious illness is almost not used, or used when the person is about to die.
Rushaniya Vaskovich, the mother of the political prisoner Yauhen Vaskovich, reacted to the adoption of the law on amnesty:
"My son and I saw each other last time in April, and then he did not say anything about the amnesty. However, I known that he hasn't had violations after his transfer to colony. He is working, his health is alright. In September, there will turn a year of his stay in the colony, and if there are no violations he can apply for parole. A little more than 2.5 years is left to him. However, if the amnesty is applied to him, it may be even better.”