Fan, underpants and cold rub-downs, that's how Belarusian prisoners survive heat

2015 2015-07-06T18:51:37+0300 2015-07-06T19:18:16+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

An anomalous heat has been observed in Belarus for several days already. There are no rains and the temperature reaches 30-32 C.

In order to maintain a good health, medics advise people to drink green tea, spend time in nature, wear light clothes made of natural fibers and use less cosmetics and perfumery.

How do prisoners struggle with the heat in jail? Radio “Liberty” asked former prisoners about it.

Human rights activist Ales Bialiatski says that hot days were the most painful ones during his imprisonment. According to him, prison officials use heat to torture prisoners, referring to internal regulations.

"The heat is a big trouble for prisoners. This is especially true in remand prisons, enclosed spaces. To somehow ease their state there, prisoners undress to underwear, constantly splash water on themselves and lie down all the time due to the terrible stiffness and humidity. This can be compared to a stay in a submarine, because there is no air. This is elementary torture. It's a little bit easier in the colonies, as there is more air in the cells and they are not that overcrowded. Instead, the rules of wearing the uniform are very strict there – a prisoner must wear a black coat, trousers and cap, as well as the tarpaulin boots. This means that the people there are constantly sweaty and wet, especially they have to stand in the sun. This is a difficult test for health. It is prohibited to undress, one can get punished even for unfastening buttons on the robe. For instance, once I was punished for working in the sewing shop wearing just a T-shirt instead of the robe."

Ales Bialiatski also draws attention to the fact that during the heat the problems of hygiene become more acute, too:

"The problem of washing oneself exacerbates in the heat. One can take a hot shower once a week, whereas people sweat everyday. The only thing left is to take a cold shower or rub oneself to the waist. It is also prohibited to undress in the sun – such things are punished, though prisoners would evidently be healthier were they allowed to sunbathe for an hour a day."

Former political prisoner Zmitser Dashkevich says that more comfortable conditions in prisons can be created only by their leadership, not by prisoners, on whom little depends there.

"The only relief is when the prison administration allows to pass a fan. Nothing else can be done to significantly improve one's state. However, it doesn't concern remand prisons. I remember that prisoners were wearing just underpants in prison in Valadarski Street in 2006. You are sweating all day there. You are writing a letter, and drops of sweat fall on the sheets. Sometimes the prison guards open the panes on the doors of the cells in order to make additional ventilation. Of course, the administration of prisons is not interested in having death cases because of the heat.

If you ask what is worse, cold or heat, I would say that heat is harder to endure. One can dress warmer when it's frosty, unless you are sitting in a thin shirt in the penal-cell, where the temperature never gets higher than 15 C. But one can't escape from the heat, it just has to be endured."

Maryna Adamovich, wife of Mikalai Statkevich, presidential candidate for the 2010 elections, pointed out that her husband suffered greatly from the heat last year. He told her about it during their meeting at the end of 2014:

"Prisoners have virtually no way to ease their situation in the heat. Chaning the clothes can be a reason for increasing the penalty, as it happened to Mikalai Dziadok. The heat is the most unbearable on the top floor, as the roof is getting very hot during the daytime. However, Mikalai had some luck – his cell is not on the sunny side. Thus, he doesn't see the sun during the year, but this is a bonus during the heat. He also splashes cold water on himself, but this is his usual habit, which doesn't depend on the weather,” said Maryna Adamovich.