Relatives of political prisoners have told European diplomats about the appalling conditions of detention in the KGB and Ministry of Internal Affairs pre-trial prisons.
The “Vyzvalenne” Civil Initiative, which unites the families of political prisoners in the “case of Dec. 19”, passed an appeal today to the Embassy of Hungary (the country currently presiding over the European Union Presidency), calling on Europe to stand firm in the issue of the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. The appeal will also be sent to the embassies of other EU countries.
Here is the full text of the appeal:
"We, the relatives of political prisoners, write to you in times that are terrible for Belarus, and for all of our families.
Today, more than 40 people are being held in the criminal case initiated after the 2010 presidential elections. One of them, Vasily Parfiankou, has been sentenced to 4 years in a maximum security penal colony. This monstrously cruel sentence has finally confirmed to us that there is no independent judiciary in Belarus. Verdicts are delivered by Lukashenko’s administration, and we cannot expect an objective consideration of the cases of political prisoners in court.
Since our last appeal to you, presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu and the journalist Iryna Khalip, the wife of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, have been transferred to house arrest, and the measure of restraint for 11 prisoners has been changed to release against recognizance not to leave. 29 people remain imprisoned. These include presidential candidates Andrei Sannikov and Mikalai Statkevich, the members of their election headquarters, journalists and ordinary civilians.
The conditions of detention of political prisoners are cruel and inhumane and can be equated to torture:
Severe attitude of KGB Special Forces guards, who hide their faces behind masks;
Blackmail and psychological pressure on suspects
Information blockade (many relatives have received no more than 2-3 letters for over two months);
Low temperature in the cells (about 8-12 degrees);
Lack of toilets in many cells.
It is now known that men are led to questioning in handcuffs.
The search procedure for men’s cells is the most humiliating: men are forced to carry all items from their cells to a special room, and are then made to strip naked.
In the pre-trial prison on Valadarskaha street, 8-place cells contain 15-16 people who are forced to sleep in shifts.
Our loved ones are helpless against the lawlessness reigning in the country. The crackdown on lawyers has intensified: 4 defence lawyers defending our relatives have been disbarred. None of the KGB pre-trial detention prison inmates have been able to meet with their lawyers one-on-one, and lawyers have not been able to meet with Mikalai Statkevich, Dzmitry Bandarenka, Siarhei Martsaleu, Anatoly Liabedzka and Paval Sevyarynets since December 29. All of this deprives these prisoners of conscience of an independent defence during the investigation and in court.
Neither house arrest, nor a change in the preventive measure to release on recognisance not to leave, will prevent these people from being convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 5 to 15 years. The dictatorship is once again trying to mislead the world community and reduce tension during the trials. The verdicts handed out to political prisoners are the most severe and unfair.
We urge you to stand firm on the issue of the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.
In the near future, journalist Alyaksandr Atroshchankau, a spokesman of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, will appear in court. He worked as a journalist for the website charter97.org for 10 years. After the civil campaign "European Belarus", Alyaksandr Atroshchankau was its press secretary and editor of the site. During the election campaign in 2010, he became a press secretary of Andrei Sannikov. On Dec. 19, Alexander Atroshchankau was at the centre of events as a journalist and as press secretary, but he was arrested, despite the fact that he had simply performed his professional duties at the Independence Square.
Human rights organization Amnesty International has recognized Alyaksandr Atroshchankau to be a prisoner of conscience.
Since his arrest on Dec. 19, only two investigative steps were conducted with Alyaksandr: the indictment on 29 December and familiarising him with the case materials. We fear that the court will be used for retribution and total isolation of him as someone who could influence the situation in the country.
We ask you to pay particular attention to the trial of Alyaksandr Atroshchankau, the first trial of an active member of the election headquarters of a presidential candidate, and to join in with our demand for the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
"Vyzvalenne" Civil Initiative