In their annual monitoring report released today, activists of human rights NGO Platforma Innovation note that the number of inmates held in Belarusian jails has decreased, but their overall conditions of detention have not improved.
It is Platforma’s second overview of the situation with the rights of prisoners in Belarus. These surveys are done on the basis of available statistics, unofficial reports from prisons and other sources. Personal experience can also help sort out the situation.
The NGO’s head Andrei Bandarenka himself served more than two years behind bars. The human rights activist says that from the moment of detention, the situation with the prisoner’s rights is very poor. Policemen often refuse to call a lawyer if the detainee does not admit his guilt. The persons under arrest are often subjected to illegal forms of treatment, including torture. Later, in the colonies and prisons where a person gets after the trial, his rights are not addressed by the administration and prosecutors. The recent trend is the weakening of activity in protecting the rights of prisoners by lawyers who, after the entry into force of the new law on the legal profession, have become more dependent on the government. If we add to this survey the dependence of judges, the general human rights situation in Belarusian prisons is very far from international standards, says Andrei Bandarenka:
“We can cite the example of police officers, who once had an opportunity to break the law with impunity against civil society activists, and subsequently this impunity covered ordinary citizens. As a result, we received a number of cases of torture, ill-treatment of regular persons, that have no relation to the opposition.”
Former political prisoner Mikita Likhavid served his sentence in the Navapolatsk colony, where he repeatedly found himself in solitary confinement. Now he is as a human rights activist monitors the cases of torture in Belarusian prisons. According to Mikita Likhavid, the most striking story of 2013 was the incident that happened in Lida, where policemen beat and tortured the Shkurko brothers. However, their complaints ended with institution of criminal proceedings against themselves. This is just a typical police response to public allegations of torture, says Mikita Likhavid. So it was in the brothers’ case:
“People here are mostly intimidated and, as a rule, victims of torture withdraw their complaints. As a result, cases against police torturers are closed.”
However, there are exceptions to the general rule. For example, it was possible to open criminal proceedings against an employee of the detention center in Minsk after the death of Ihar Ptsichkin. The investigation is not yet complete, it was recently taken over by the Investigative Committee of Belarus. Earlier, proceedings were opened against policemen of Leninski district police department, where Vasil Sarochyk was beaten. But now it is closed. Human rights activists say that it happened after the intervention of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who has publicly questioned the fact that the detainee could have been tortured by a female police officer.
Platform’s deputy chair, Aliona Krasouskaya-Kaspiarovich, previously worked in a medical facility of a colony in Minsk. She notes that the situation with the provision of health care to prisoners in Belarusian colonies and remand prisons has not improved this year. The human rights activist is outraged by the fact that up to 90% of prisoners’ salaries are taken by the prison administration to cover the cost of food and utilities. This is despite the fact that prisoners’ salaries are extremely low – some of them earn just 10-12 thousand rubles (approx. USD 1) a month working on the heavy wood production.
But Aliona Krasouskaya-Kaspiarovich says there are some positive moments. First of all, the total number of prisoners in Belarus decreased during the year by 12,000: from 50 to 38 thousand people. The human rights activist also stresses the achievements in the protection of prison labor:
“In some prisons, employees of industrial zones began to adhere to the minimum safety rules. There are examples where the convicts were finally given respirators or other means. From the European point of view it looks ridiculous, but for Belarus, it is at least some progress.”
The human rights defenders of Platforma Innovation note that there has been no amnesty in Belarus for two years already and that there is no talking about it in the government. According to the human rights activists, another amnesty would significantly improve the human rights situation in Belarusian prisons, where much depends on the number of prisoners.
See full text of Platforma Innovation’s report in Russian.