Creating separate colony with intolerable conditions of detention contrary to fundamental principles of international and national law
In accordance with Article 8 of the Criminal Executive Code, which enshrines the foundations of the legal status of convicted persons, the State guarantees the protection of the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of convicts, provides the statutory conditions of application of punishments and other measures of criminal responsibility in relation to convicts, guarantees social justice, their social, legal and other protection. During the execution of penalties and other measures of criminal responsibility, convicts are guaranteed the rights and freedoms of citizens of the Republic of Belarus with the limitations established by the Criminal, Criminal-Executive and other legislation of the Republic of Belarus.
In early December 2014, the Belarusian President asked to toughen punishment for drug trafficking and to create a special prison for drug dealers with the most stringent conditions. Although questionable in terms of validity, tougher punishment is a legitimate proposal, which does not contravene the Constitution and other document defining human rights. However, proposals concerning the conditions of this category of prisoners deserve harsh criticism.
The President said: “We need to create for them intolerable conditions in places of serving those sentences. If we have a lot of them, but I do not think that we have a lot of them in order to build them a separate colony, but if we have a lot, let one of the colonies be vacated for this. If we do not have enough people for a colony, let’s have one unit, a barrack, or anything else in the colony, we will establish a regime for them in the colony so that they, frankly speaking, asked for death. The same is true for distributors,” according to Interfax.by.
Creating a separate colony with intolerable conditions of detention is contrary to the fundamental principles of both international and national law. Art. 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This international instrument was ratified by the Republic of Belarus. The above prohibition of torture and degrading treatment is repeated Art. 25 of the Belarusian Constitution and Art. 3 of the Criminal Executive Code. Thus, in order to implement the proposals, one either has to ignore existing laws or to amend them, in fact legalizing torture, violence and other cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners. By itself, imprisonment is a punishment, while criminal responsibility is not intended to cause physical suffering or humiliation of human dignity.
Just like many other of the President's instructions, these initiatives could have been safely forgotten, however, an analysis of the situation over the period shows that the proposals were implemented in strict accordance with a purpose.
During 2015, there were numerous cases when courts overturned orders of parole or replacement of a more lenient punishment in respect of persons convicted for crimes in the sphere of drug trafficking. As a result, individuals that proved to be fully corrected, were again sent to serve their sentences in prison. The mass character of this phenomenon casts doubt on the fact that the decisions were taken in compliance with the guarantees of a fair trial, and were not the result of instructions from the executive power.
During 2015, the HRC "Viasna" received information about abuses against persons convicted of crimes in the area of illicit drug use. The relatives of prisoners united in an initiative “Mothers’ Movement 328”, reported several such cases:
“Dzmitry Ya. Was sentenced in October 2015 under Article 328 to 9 years of imprisonment to be served in a high-security penal colony; in January, the sentence entered into force. We already know that he will be sent to Penal Colony No. 22 Voŭčyja Nory. The prisoner is disabled, and the disease allows to apply for exemption from punishment. His mother has repeatedly appealed to the Department of Corrections and the court: “In general, I have written seven times about it to the Department! They answer: he has no diseases preventing serving the sentence, he did not get sick there, he has a whole bunch of them. He has already arrived there being sick; Daroshka of the Department told that the colony or pre-trial prison should write an application for a medical consultation; it turns out that the Department does not trust and contradicts the medical rehabilitation examination.”
The prisoner has one kidney, he uses an artificial urinary system; transfers and carrying heavy things escalated his painful condition. At the same time, he was detained in a general cell and was forced, in order not to cause inconvenience to his cell-mates, to limit himself in the use of liquid, which is totally devastating for his health. Prior to the entry into force of the sentence, officials of the pre-trial prison strongly suggested that he asked to be immediately transferred to a colony, by Dzmitri refused, saying that he did not admit his guilt and did not agree with the verdict.
In early January 2016, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" received information from Larysa Zhyhar, representative of the public initiative “Mothers’ Movement 328”, who said that a prisoner had committed a suicide attempt in the Žodzina jail to protest torture and abuse.
“Yahor Pratasenia was arrested by the General Directorate for Drug Control and Human Trafficking in April 2015. During his detention he was brutally tortured by employees of the Directorate. Since April, he has hatched a plan of suicide, telling his mother in every letter that by his death he was going to punish the employees. The prison censors did not stop these letters, paying no attention to his words. On December 28, Pratasenia was sentenced to 14 years in prison. At the trial, he told his mother not to file an appeal, since he did not want to live. I also wrote to him asking him not to do that. And on January 5 the guy tried to hang himself. Now he is in hospital in Žodzina, in the intensive care unit. I was able to contact a doctor, who told me that his condition is very serious, he is in a coma,” says Ms. Zhyhar.
Human rights activists believe that the psychological crisis of Yahor Pratasenia resulted from torture and abuse during the investigation and his detention. Here’s what he writes about this situation in his last letter to Larysa Zhyhar:
“I believe that in my situation a suicide will solve the problem of tyranny, brutality and justice. I'll leave a note before committing suicide; in this note, I will explain the reason for my action, and the reason is that I could not stand the psychological pressure, because I often cannot help thinking of how I was tortured and I cannot prove that I was tortured because their own security management ignored my statement for about five months. In my statement, I indicated that I agreed to testify on the polygraph to prove that I was tortured and prove the use of all the torture methods that were used against me. I have no choice but to prove the truth of my words by committing suicide. After that, they will surely punish the drug control department, which tortured me, as any psychologist will confirm that not a single person could commit suicide for no reason. After they punish this department, other departments will stop torture and using physical force against detainees, because they will be afraid that someone will do the same... My suicide will also help your group achieve the general objectives of yours: use of parole, mitigation of security level, application of amnesty, amending Part 3 of Article 328 of the Criminal Code.”
The prisoner’s letters were censored, but no timely action were taken by the prison authorities.
The case is currently being investigated by the Investigative Committee.
Thus, the illegal practice of discrimination against prisoners on the grounds of committing a specific crime is contrary to the national law and international commitments of Belarus in the field of human rights and needs immediate correction.