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Dzmitryi Sonchyk's imprisonment and health crisis in his cellmates' accounts

2023 2023-05-31T10:44:19+0300 2023-05-31T10:47:25+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

In November 2021, while serving time in a Mahilioŭ prison, political prisoner Dzmitryi Sonchyk, 47, suffered a heart attack followed by a stroke. After spending about a month in a city hospital, handcuffed to the bed under constant surveillance, he was returned to prison. Despite his acquired disability during imprisonment, the Minsk Municipal Court dismissed his appeal, and Sonchyk was sent back to a penal colony. The harsh conditions of his confinement were detailed by Sonchyk's former cellmate from Mahilioŭ prison and another inmate from the colony where he's currently serving his sentence. Both witnesses provided a chilling account of the ill-treatment and neglect Sonchyk experienced in prison. According to their accounts, other inmates were the ones primarily responsible for Sonchyk's care.

Dzmitryi Sonchyk, a photographer, was sentenced to five years in jail for his commentaries posted online in 2020 and 2021.

Sonchyk was arrested on June 28, 2021, when plainclothes officers detained him in an unmarked van. The reason for his arrest were his comments on social media. An intrusive search was conducted at his home, and all his equipment was confiscated.

In October 2021, Judge Dzmitryi Karsiuk of the Central District Court of Minsk sentenced Sonchyk to three years in a penal colony. According to the prosecution's version, he insulted and threatened the lives of four individuals in his comments on a Telegram channel between 2020 and 2021. The victims are said to include officials from Ivacevičy and Niasviž police departments and an officer from Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK). At his trial, Sonchyk explained that his comments were born out of anger and frustration after witnessing videos of beatings and detentions.

Prior to his arrest, Sonchyk had no health issues. However, he contracted COVID-19 while incarcerated and was then transferred to Mahilioŭ prison. According to human rights defenders, he was beaten and coerced into apologizing on camera and admitting guilt. Two weeks after he arrived at Prison No. 4, he suffered a heart attack and, another two weeks later, a stroke.

Former political prisoner Valiantsin Labachou was in the same cell as Sonchyk when his health took a dramatic turn. He described how they desperately tried to get the attention of the prison staff when Sonchyk fell ill. Their pleas were largely ignored, and Sonchyk's medical issues were blamed on COVID-19, a claim Labachou dismisses since Sonchyk was in perfect health before his imprisonment.

Despite being too young for that category, Sonchyk was assigned to a group of retirees. He was granted a disability pension, but it doesn’t reach him due to deductions by the penal colony.

Another former political prisoner, Vital Zhuk, had the opportunity to meet Sonchyk later. He reported that Sonchyk had coordination and speech problems and involuntarily moved his hands. But, he emphasized Sonchyk's inner strength and resilience in facing these trials.

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