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"What was broken in the punishment cell heals the way it is": former political prisoner speaks of the conditions in PC-1

2024 2024-02-01T16:07:56+0300 2024-02-01T16:07:56+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

"Every morning I wake up at five and remember that there are people who have remained there. And while you want to be happy that you are free, you still remember: "The guys are still there. How awful!" That's why I want to be useful now." 

With these words, the man begins his terrible story with a smile that helped him overcome the horrible months in prison. For months he was in penal colony-1 in Navapolack, convicted under a political article. He heard the screams of political prisoners being beaten, treated himself using books from the library, because other medical help was not provided, and ate gruel in a punishment cell, while snowflakes fell into his plate from the window open for several days in a row. He shared his monologue with Viasna: for security reasons, we do not name the man. 

"Palchyk beat people up himself"

"I was beaten even during my detention. When I was walking down the corridor of the temporary detention facility with my belongings, they hit my legs to make me walk faster. They asked: "You ran at the protests, but you can't run here?" The beatings continued in penal colony-1: this is a common practice there. When Palchyk was the boss, it was especially tough. He beat people up himself and put them in stress positions. He also liked to come to the punishment cell every day except weekends and listen to reports. If you stammered, you had to start over. One day Andrei Siarheyevich did not like something and he said to a prisoner that he would dip his head into the toilet and stick a baton in, and send him to a high-security prison. In the morning, that man cut open his stomach, making sure not to kill himself. Everyone was scared and inspections arrived. But this is an extreme measure, I would not dare to do this. If political prisoners, for example, hold hunger strikes, no one cares.

Былы начальнік калоніі № 1 Андрэй Пальчык
Former head of colony No. 1 Andrei Palchyk

"In winter, you wait for the night like for hell"

"What was broken in the punishment cell heals the way it is. No one helps you. If someone unknowingly makes a noise there and does not calm down after a couple of warnings, they are taken to the shower and beaten. They beat people up in the punishment cells as well. Sometimes it was scary to hear people screaming there. The official reasons are simple: someone didn't clean up or slept during the day. But in some ways it was easier there: no need to work in the dirt, no conflicts in the squad. Especially in the summer. Some even try to get there in the summer, because they get tired of working in terrible conditions and damaging their health. I spent a lot of time in the punishment cell. When they put me there, they said I was going to die there. If you know how to communicate with yourself, then you won't go crazy there. You can meditate, walk back and forth, and, if the shift is good, listen to the radio. I even sneaked the Bible with me. I rewrote the Psalms on the toilet paper, hid it and read it, hiding under the table.

The coldest cell is called "the boot". It is so named because it is angular. Staying there in winter is torture. The walls "cry" there because of condensation, and it took an hour before lights out to more or less cover the window with towels and toilet paper so that it would not be so drafty. But the window could still be opened by the wind at night. Because of the condensation, socks were so wet at night that you could wring water out. And some stayed there without socks: sometimes Palchyk took them away, as they were "too warm". Imagine: the radiators are turned off, it's –22 degrees Celsius outside. Lunch was brought to us, and snowflakes fell into the plates. When Palchyk was the head of the colony, the windows were open in such a way that there was a constant draft. You had to get up about eight times a night to go to the toilet, as the water comes out of your kidneys, and do physical exercises to keep warm. You do a hundred push-ups and squats, you tie your underwear in a knot on your head to keep warm, find the space on the bed that you warmed up, and then you have half an hour to sleep. That's why you're waiting there for the night like for hell. Under Mashadzieu, they started to close the windows at night.

They also constantly pour bleach into the punishment cell so that you clean up. Usually every morning, but on holidays they can also pour it in the evening. They say: "Here are the gifts for you!"

"All books in the library are in Russian"

"When you come back from the punishment cell, everything has been stolen from you: no bags, no care packages.

Once I was offered to rat on someone so that I wouldn't go to the punishment cell myself. But you get used to everything there, especially since there are good people among the staff. They could help a little. And in the medical unit they say: "You are a political prisoner, you have to rot and die here." They start treating you in the colony when you are dying already, when you can no longer walk yourself. So people treated themselves: they go to the library, read all possible books, and learn how to cure themselves. 

By the way, all Belarusian book have been removed from the library now: it started sometime in the fall of 2023. Political prisoners are not allowed to read Aleksiyevich, for example. They removed Kupala, Karatkevich, and Kolas. They took away books in foreign languages: English, Polish, Lithuanian, and even Chinese. The boys ask: "Why can't I read Chinese books? They're our friends." They are answered: "Today's friends are tomorrow's enemies." All books in the library are in Russian."

"The only way to fight is to act outside the colony"

"There are no fewer political prisoners in the colony. They keep coming: for likes, for BySol's help.

To help political prisoners, you can write anonymous complaints to the DС (Department of Corrections). Anonymous, so as not to put your relatives at risk, although some write openly. One day, a guy called his grandmother and blurted out into the phone before anyone could react: "Grandma, they don't provide medical care to me, write to the DC." And he hung up. His grandma wrote there, he was taken to the republican hospital, and a surgery was performed. Then they took revenge on him with the punishment cell. This is the only way to fight: to act outside the colony, because there is nothing you can do inside.

A lot of political prisoners are released. Some are confused and disappointed. They no longer expect support from somewhere, but it is important to support them: even just to raise some money for recovering after the colony. Some are angry and want revenge. And I just want to live, walk outside and be close to my family, so as not to let them down after getting their support while I was in prison." 

If you have suffered from torture by the security forces or have faced inhuman and cruel treatment in a pre-trial detention center, violation of human rights, please write to: Telegram: @ViasnaDOC. Email: can also tell your story to Viasna journalists: @viasnainfo

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