Statement by the human rights community of Belarus on the death of political prisoner Vadzim Khrasko
On the night of January 8–9, 2024, 50-year-old political prisoner Vadzim Khrasko died of pneumonia in the Vitsba colony. He was taken from the colony to the hospital, but the doctors were no longer able to save him. Representatives of the Belarusian human rights community issued a joint statement on this issue.
Vadzim Khrasko was detained in April 2023 and convicted under Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code (financing the activities of an extremist group). He was found guilty and sentenced to three years in a colony for several donations, despite him having a serious illness. Khrasko appealed the verdict, but the judicial board of the Supreme Court upheld it. On August 16, 2023, human rights activists recognized Vadzim Khrasko as a political prisoner. On November 3, 2023, the Interior Ministry put Khrasko on the "list of extremists." The political prisoner served his sentence in Viciebsk colony No. 3 and stayed there for about two months. Then he was taken to the hospital, where he died. On January 12, 2024, Vadzim Khrasko was buried in Minsk.
At the moment, the cause of Vadzim Khrasko's death and other circumstances are not certain. However, according to preliminary information, his death could have happened because proper medical care was provided untimely.
Vadzim Khrasko's death is the fourth recent death of a political prisoner in Belarusian correctional institutions. For instance:
In May 2021, political prisoner Vitold Ashurak died in correctional colony No. 17 in Škloŭ, Mahilioŭ region;
In May 2023, political prisoner Mikalai Klimovich died in the Vitsba colony;
In July 2023, artist Ales Pushkin died in the Hrodna emergency hospital. He was brought there from prison No. 1 in Hrodna.
In connection with the latest death of a political prisoner in Belarus, we remind the Belarusian authorities of their international obligations in the field of human rights. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes that the right to life is an inherent right of every human being. In its General Comment No. 36 (Article 6: the right to life), the Human Rights Committee emphasized the crucial importance of the right to life for both individuals and society as a whole. It is in itself the most valuable right inherent in every human being, but it also represents one of the fundamental rights, the effective protection of which is a prerequisite for the realization of all other human rights. The committee also indicated that the right to life is a right that should not be interpreted narrowly. Individuals have a right not to be subjected to action or inaction that are aimed or expected to cause their unnatural or premature death. Article 6 of the Covenant guarantees this right for all human beings, without distinction of any kind, including for persons suspected or convicted of even the most serious crimes.
The right to life cannot be properly realized in conditions where prisoners' right to health is ignored (in this connection, we recall general comment No. 14 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, calling on States to ensure non-discriminatory access to medical care for prisoners), together with the state's obligations to ensure humane conditions of detention in places of deprivation of liberty within the framework of Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Once again, we draw attention to the fact that despite Vadzim Khrasko's serious illness and the presence of alternative types of punishments in Part 1 of Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code of Belarus, a judge of the Minsk City Court, Siarhei Khrypach, sentenced Vadzim Khrasko to imprisonment for a period of three years, and the judicial board of the Supreme Court upheld this sentence.
It is quite obvious that another death of a political prisoner in places of detention in such a short time due to failure to provide proper medical care is a consequence of the state policy of inhumane treatment of people based on political motives.
Every day, thousands of prisoners in Belarusian prisons suffer from violations of the right to life and the right to health, guaranteed both by Belarus' international obligations and the Constitution. Human rights defenders constantly report the lack of proper medical examination, appropriate conditions and equipment, qualified medical personnel, and non-provision of medical care in correctional institutions. In addition, the detention of some political prisoners in incommunicado conditions (without communication with relatives and lawyers) calls into question the satisfactory state of their health and is an unacceptable practice that violates human rights.
It is crucial to emphasize that serving a sentence in isolation should not deprive prisoners of access to specialized and high-tech medical assistance. In addition, we note reports on the introduction of restrictions (and in fact a ban) by the instruction of the Department of Corrections dated April 29, 2023 on the transfer of medicines to persons in custody, with the exception of vitamins and insulins of foreign manufacture.
In this regard, we recall that, as indicated by the Human Rights Committee in note No. 36, participating states have an increased obligation to ensure taking any necessary measures to protect the lives of persons deprived of their liberty by the state, since, by arresting, detaining, incarcerating, or otherwise depriving them of their liberty, participating states assume responsibility for taking care of their lives and physical integrity, while they cannot cite lack of financial resources or other logistical problems to reduce such responsibility.
Once again, we have to state that the Republic of Belarus does not fulfill its obligations in the field of the right to life here as well. The right to life is not adequately protected by law and is not ensured in practice, which regularly leads to tragedies.
The situation is aggravated by the practice of arbitrary detention: in addition to the general disregard for the matters of necessity and proportionality in sentencing, judges often do not take into account the state of health of the accused, impose serious sanctions related to imprisonment for "crimes", which in fact represent the realization of human rights. As a result, people from vulnerable social groups are placed in Belarusian prisons, and for them the incarceration becomes an even greater ordeal than for others. As of the beginning of 2024, there were at least 48 senior citizens among the political prisoners (2 times more than in 2022!), as well as at least 42 people with disabilities and serious illnesses. The oldest of them, 75-year-old Natallia Taran, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on charges of insults. She has not yet been released.
We want to highlight that the authorities use the denial of medical assistance as a form of pressure on political prisoners, which is unacceptable and can be considered torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment.
Based on the above, once again emphasizing the importance of ensuring the human right to life and health, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community
call on the Prosecutor General's Office of the Republic of Belarus and the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus to open a criminal case on the death of Vadzim Khrasko, conduct an objective and comprehensive investigation to establish the causes of this tragedy, and inform the public about its results.
We also demand to inform the public about the results of the investigation into the deaths of other political prisoners in Belarusian prisons: Vitold Ashurak, Mikalai Klimovich, and Ales Pushkin.
We also demand that all cases of violations of the right to health care in places of detention be checked and appropriate measures be taken to bring those responsible to justice in order to prevent such tragic consequences in the future.
We demand that the Belarusian authorities ensure proper medical care in places of detention, including the availability of qualified medical personnel and appropriate equipment.
At the same time, we also demand that employees of penitentiary institutions, other state institutions engaged in forced isolation (temporary detention facilities, centers for isolation of offenders, pre-trial detention centers, etc.), as well as their management, comply with the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and its international obligations to ensure the protection of life and health of persons deprived of liberty and in isolation, promptly respond to health-related complaints from prisoners, and take urgent measures to address them.
We also urge Belarusian judges to take into account the state of health of the accused during sentencing and not to sentence to deprivation of liberty if circumstances so require.
These demands do not negate the statement of the Belarusian human rights community regarding the inadmissibility of persecuting citizens for exercising their civil and political rights, the immediate release, and the review of criminal cases of all political prisoners in Belarus.
The Belarusian human rights community expresses its deep condolences to the family, relatives, and friends of Vadzim Khrasko in connection with his death.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee;
Human Rights Center Viasna;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House;
Public institution Doctors for Truth and Justice.