Pavel Sapelka: Practice of hearings in closed penal facilities flawed
On June 2, lawyer Pavel Sapelka wrote to the Supreme Court to clarify the procedure of access to mobile hearings on prison premises, and indicate what measures were planned to implement by the Supreme Court in order to arrange court sessions within colonies and prisons in compliance with guarantees of a fair trial and the principle of transparency.
Earlier, an employee of the Škloŭ penal colony №17, where the issue of changing the regime of imprisonment for Mikalai Statkevich was considered, refused to let the lawyer visit the hearing.
Replying to an e-mail appeal by Mr. Sapelka, Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court Ruslan Aniskevich said that, indeed, the hearing was held in Škloŭ penal colony No. 17:
“At the same time,” says the judge, “please note that in accordance with Art. 281 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, issues of the place and time of the trial, the organization of the court session are within the exclusive competence of the judge who is in charge of the trial. Arguments of the failure by the court to meet the provisions of Part 1, Art. 287 of the Code of Criminal Procedure are unfounded. Decisions on access to penal colony No. 17, a facility with a special access mode, are taken by the head of the institution. The hearing took place in an open trial. Persons who expressed their desire to be present at the hearing were given the opportunity to enter the territory of the correctional institution by its head upon agreement with the Court.”
Pavel Sapelka told the following about this ‘opportunity’:
“While approaching the building, where the check-up point of the PC was situated, I and other people who were there at the time were approached by a police major who refused to introduce himself and sternly demanded that we went away from the building to the parking lot, located some 50-70 meters from the checkpoint. He didn’t respond to questions about access to the hearing, expressing vague threats of arbitrary detention and the use of force in case I, among others, citizens did not leave.”
Comments here are, apparently, unnecessary.
In his appeal, the lawyer also asked about how citizens can exercise their right to an audio recording of the court session provided by Part 6, Art. 287 of the CCP, since carrying recording devices to the colony is strictly prohibited.
According to the Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court, the question of sound recording devices during trials does not require further explanation, as it is regulated in the Code of Criminal Procedure. “Guidelines are given for the courts in ruling No. 11 of the Supreme Court of Belarus of 2013/12/20 “On ensuring transparency in the administration of justice and the dissemination of information on the activities of the courts.”
However, the judge notes that recording is not the only and exclusive way to ensure the right of citizens to document the conduct of the trial, suggesting indirectly that in such a situation the ability of recording the hearing can be ignored.
Commenting on the answer Mr. Sapelka:
“Viasna” is often blamed for the fact that it pays special attention to cases of political and civil society activists; yes, it is certainly true, as the example of such cases can help reveal the problems concerning many, if not all, prisoners. I tried as hard as I could in intelligible and uncomplicated wording to convey to the leadership of the Supreme Court, which is now fully responsible for the observance of fair trial guarantees in the administration of justice, the idea that the existing practice of holding hearings in closed institutions is not all right. And I was sure that the Supreme Court would share my concern about the existing problems. It turned out that we speak different languages in general. And this response from a respected lawyer hurts me a lot.”
Earlier, Pavel Sapelka sent a similar complaint to the Office of the Department of Corrections of the Mahilioŭ region. In response to the appeal, the Department’s head said that the hearing, which Sapelka wanted to attend, was open, but was held in the building of an administrative building – in a high security facility, in connection with which free access to its territory is forbidden. In fact, the reply suggests that it is nearly impossible to attend mobile trials, which take place in the colonies and other places of imprisonment.