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"It should have been a restriction of freedom, not a deprivation." How political prisoners live in open-type correctional institutions

2024 2024-03-14T14:46:35+0300 2024-03-14T14:46:35+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

To date, at least 655 people in Belarus have been sentenced to restriction of freedom in political criminal cases and sent to open-type correctional institutions. Serving time in those institutions includes compulsory work at a state-owned enterprise or other institution and living in a cramped dorm room. And in their free time, prisoners have to watch propaganda films and news. 

Former political prisoner Henadz (name changed for security reasons), who served his full term in one of the Belarusian open-type correctional institutions and recently left the country, told Viasna how political prisoners are not allowed to go out to the city in their free time and how many times a day they need to send their geolocation to the inspector.

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"I did not consider an escape"

Henadz says that he did not consider escaping from the correctional institution because after the verdict was announced, his passport was not returned to him. He thought that appealing the verdict was a waste of time.

"My documents — military ID and passport — were immediately sent to the place of serving my sentence. And I have not yet met a single political prisoner who would have had his sentence changed after an appeal."

"Your tooth hurts? Suck it up"

The man recalls a case when another political prisoner had a toothache. When he asked to take him to the dentist, an employee of the institution told him: "Can't you just suck it up?".

When Henadz needed warm clothes, he asked his relatives to send them by mail. Although by law he has free time to go out to the city to shop.

"Every Sunday we were taken to the post office, but not to a store. There we could pay for the dorm, pick up a parcel, and so on."

"You are not allowed to sit on the bed during the day"

The dormitory building has a shared kitchen and small rooms for 4 and 8 people, which contain only bunk beds and one table for all. There are cockroaches everywhere in the dorm. The payment for accommodation is 30 rubles per month.

"Lights out at 22 , and rise at 6. You can't sleep during the day. Even sitting on the bed is forbidden. If they see it, they will report a violation of the detention rules. You get 10 days in solitary confinement for three violations. You can only sit on a stool," says Henadz.

The renovation of the dormitory building is done by the convicts themselves.

Sending geolocation every two hours. Video calls with the inspector twice a day.

Political prisoners in open-type correctional institutions must send their geolocation to the inspector every two hours via Telegram. And they also need to have a video call with the inspector twice per work shift.

"There have been cases when, during a search, an inspector found washed socks on the radiator. It is forbidden to hang them there. He turned the whole room upside down for that."

"Looking at some guys, I understood that propaganda was working"

Prisoners in open-type correctional institutions must attend ideological lectures on weekdays: from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m and after 6 p.m. on weekends. They also have to watch state news.

"At the lectures, we watched documentaries from the 40s to the 80s. The lectures themselves were about the harm of alcohol and drugs. These lectures were repeated. The employee was just reading some text from the Internet. Looking at some guys, I understood that propaganda was working, even if not very efficiently.

You are not allowed to sleep at lectures, and you can't do something you want to. One day I brought a book to a lecture, which was immediately taken away from me."

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