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"The main thing is to save your health." May 21 is the Day of Political Prisoners

2024 2024-05-07T13:30:37+0300 2024-05-07T13:30:37+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Viasna human rights center has designated May 21 as a Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Belarus. This year will be the third anniversary of the death of political prisoner and activist Vitold Ashurak in Škloŭ colony No. 17. Since then, five more political prisoners have died in places of captivity: Mikalai Klimovich, Ales Pushkin, Vadzim Khrasko, Ihar Lednik, and Aliaksandr Kulinich. They were all united not only by political persecution against them, but also by the fact that they received untimely or substandard medical care in detention, as well as health problems, despite which they were imprisoned or sent to penal colonies. As of May 6, 2024, human rights defenders know of at least 254 political prisoners who are at particular risk behind bars. For some of them, every day in captivity is critical, and their health and even their lives depend on it. Also, many political prisoners have mental health problems during and after their imprisonment.

Therefore, this year the theme of the Day of Political Prisoners in Belarus is the right to health and medical care in detention. Viasna calls on people to express solidarity with all political prisoners on May 21, draw the attention of the Belarusian and international community to the failure to provide proper medical care in places of detention, and once again demand the authorities to release all political prisoners.

Why did May 21 become the Day of Political Prisoners in Belarus?

Human rights defenders chose the date of the Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Belarus for a reason. It was on May 21, 2021, that an activist from Biarozaŭka, Vitold Ashurak, died in Škloŭ colony No. 17: the political prisoner was sentenced behind closed doors to five years of imprisonment. The reported cause of death is cardiac arrest, although, according to relatives, the man did not have any complains about his health. In the video from the colony, which the Investigative Committee published after the death of the political prisoner, he looked exhausted and could barely stand on his feet. When the relatives were shown the body of Vitold, his head was almost completely covered with bandages. The Investigative Committee stated that the death of the political prisoner was not of a criminal nature and has not yet initiated a criminal case. 

Over the years, human rights activists have collected testimonies from former political prisoners about the harsh conditions of detention in the Škloŭ colony and problems with medical care. Some of the stories have been published.

What is the theme of the Day of Political Prisoners-2024?

According to Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Belarus, as a state that has ratified it, recognizes the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The right to health is a universal right that cannot be limited by imprisonement. But Belarusians detained for political reasons have been kept in inhumane unsanitary conditions in isolation cells for almost four years, deprived of hygiene products and medicines. People with disabilities and serious health problems are detained and sent to penal colonies where they are not provided with proper medical care. Many political prisoners suffer from mental health problems during and after their release. Also, in places of detention, little attention is paid to the special medical needs of women. Tuberculosis, scurvy, pneumonia, and COVID-19 are examples of diseases that Belarusian political prisoners suffer from. This is not the whole list of problems that political prisoners face today. 

The issue of preserving the health of political prisoners behind bars is acute for the entire Belarusian society, human rights activist of Viasna Dziyana Pinchuk is convinced:

"This year, on the day of political prisoners, human rights defenders propose to draw attention to the systemic violation of the right to health and medical care for prisoners. It was due to health problems, untimely and/or poor-quality medical care that six political prisoners died in places of detention. More than 250 people are behind bars at particular risk. It is important that hundreds of people behind bars preserve their health, both physical and psychological. A former political prisoner, who was released in April this year, very aptly noted: "The main thing is to save your health." Indeed, this is the main thing for everyone in captivity. And we must help them by any means possible."

Recall that human rights activists have chosen a yellow tag as a symbol of the first Day of Political Prisoners, which is put on all convicts under political articles in penal colonies and makes them a target of special treatment. We have drawn attention to the discrimination of prisoners by the authorities based on political beliefs. The yellow tag, which Vitold Ashurak talked about in his letters, has become a symbol of political prisoners in Belarus. Last year, the topic of the Day was the right to correspondence, and to this day political prisoners in Belarus are essentially deprived of this right, and some (Siarhei Tsikhanouski, Mikalai Statkevich, Maryia Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak, and others) are kept incommunicado. Today, political prisoners are restricted in their right to unhindered correspondence, and solidarity with them is essentially criminalized.

What can you do on the Day of Political Prisoners?

Remember the safety rules. Join the solidarity actions only if it is safe for you.

  1. Organize an action or other event in your city in support of Belarusian political prisoners and to commemorate the deceased political prisoners.
  2. On May 21, add a symbol of the Day to your clothes: a yellow tag or a red heart, take a picture, and post it on social media with the hashtag #дзеньпалітвязняў or #dayofthepoliticalprisoners
  3. For one day, change the profile picture on social media to the yellow color of the political prisoner's tag to make the issue of political prisoners more visible.
  4. Provide targeted support to political prisoners in such ways as, for example, a parcel, a money transfer, a telegram, or support their families.
  5. Use your own creative power to stand up in solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus.

Human rights activists collect information about events dedicated to the Day of Political Prisoners of Belarus. You can send it to them via Telegram: @Viasnainfo 

Stand in solidarity! Freedom for political prisoners!

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