Investigators, judges and jail servants have eagerly reacted to Lukashenka’s order to step up fight against “drug addicts.”
A 20-year-old Ulad from Mahilyou is serving his 11-year term for distribution of drugs in the penal colony №20 Vauchynyja Nory (Wolf’s Dens) in Ivatsevichy district. Ulad refused to cooperate with the investigation, and pleaded not guilty to the charge of drugs distribution. Ulad’s accomplices acted in a different way, and one of them was sentenced to 3.5 years, while the second is serving the term in an open-type correctional facility. And Ulad continues to appeal from the judgement. In a colony such people as him should not expect amnesty, early release or at least easing of an institutional treatment. Besides, inmates convicted for crimes relates to drugs have harsher conditions of life and incarceration conditions. Why?
Ulad’s father, Ihar, shares his impressions after the first visit to his son in the penal colony, Radio Svaboda informs.
“An officer of the colony warned me from the start that initially the colony had been planned for 500 inmates, while there are more than 1,000 of them there now. My son confirmed that. While earlier there were tables and bedside chests between beds, now all this additional furniture was removed, for more beds to be placed there. There are more and more prisoners, and almost all of them have long terms, more than 10 years. They have added up that 30 persons in total are to serve 370 years in total. Most everyday household problems are caused by overcrowdedness. But why the mistakes of the former Soviet prison should be repeated, and so many inmates squeezed in one colony,” – Ihar is indignant.
According to him, in Belarus the number of prisoners convicted for crimes related to drugs is to reach 10,000 soon. But the reason is not only as this crime being a widespread crime, and it is punished by long terms mercilessly.
“Courts rubber stamp court verdicts, though they have minimal evidentiary foundation, if only they have someone’s confession,” – the father of the inmate believes.
Telling the story of is son, Ihar does not exclude that he had really been a drug addict, but he believes drug trafficking had not been established at court at all.
“Within an unidentified period of time”… “an unidentified person sold”… “an unidentified quantity of drugs,” – Ihar quotes the verdict and mentions that in a conversation with an investigator she admitted that it was true, there were no evidence except for testimony of one of drug addicts, but that was enough for her and for the court.
“As Lukashenka had ordered to punish that in harshest way…”
Since 2014, when Lukashenka ordered to stiffen penalties for drug distribution, and harshen incarceration conditions for drug dealers, colonies intended primarily for so-called “drug addicts” (persons convicted for drugs-related crimes) started to emerge in the country. The colonies that have more of such inmates than others are the colony №22 in Ivatsevichy and №13 in Hlybokae. But now it has turned out that because of overcrowdedness additional problems occurred in these institutions. As a result – people are sending complaints, that the situation there is close to a critical one.
“More than 160 persons are kept there in one unit, and they have only 6 wash stands and 5 WCs per a unit, which causes moral and physical discomfort,” – a prisoner Aleh writes from the 15th Mahilyou penal colony. He is indignant at super-harsh verdicts to “drug addicts” and at cruelty of treatment in penal institutions. Aleh supposes that inflated demands are made on this category of inmates, and the administration staff disciminates them.
Aleh told about work of “drug addicts” in the colony:
“Neither technical nor sanitary rules and regulations for work are observed. The epidemiological and fire safety conditions in the production zone are critical. In his turn, the colony’s superior publicly assures “drug addicts”, that they do not need a shower and special clothing in such conditios.”
A mother of another prisoner, “drug addict”, Larysa Zhyhar from Hrodna, has been fighting for several years for investigators, courts and administration of penitentiary institutions to treat persons, charged with crimes related to drugs, without a bias, for them to see such prisoners as human beings, who could mend their ways. “Mothers’ Movement 328” – that’s the name of a public initiative of parents, headed by Larysa. The name is given after the number of the article of the Criminal Code. As said by Larysa Zhyhar, the human rights situation in prisons for inmates convicted for crimes related to drugs is not getting better.
“Lukashenka said in April that the attitude to drug addicts should be “the harshest”, so the force structures officers are trying hard, as they are authorized to do anything now,” – Larysa Zhyhar thinks.
Why there’s no amnesty or release on parole for “drug addicts” ?
Larysa’s son is serving his term in the 22nd colony, he has already served 4 years out of 8. The attempts to appeal against the sentence which the son considers unfair were in vain. Larysa Zhyhar is trying to provide at least some help to those who, together with her son, are serving their huge prison terms in Vauchynyja Nory .
“They have too many household problems there, like lack of telephones to call home as there are too many people, or limitation of time for meetings due to lack of premises for the meetings. They also prohibited passing vitamins in the parcels, having considered them equal to medicines. I am not even speaking about the fact they will never be amnestied or released on parole,” – Larysa Zhyhar says.
In early May, Larysa Zhyhar together with other activists of the “Mothers’ Movement-328” had an appointment with Head of the Department of Corrections of the Interior Ministry Siarhei Daroshka and tried to convey her problems to the “lord superior”.
“For example, we asked Siarhei Daroshka why the prisoners-“drug addicts” had no chance for alternation of the regime, or release on parole? Maybe, there is a special law prohibiting to do so? So, yesterday I got a response from the department, which claims, that, in accordance with Articles 90 and 91 of the Criminal Code, and Article 187 of the Criminal and Procedural Code such issues remain within the competence of the penal institutions’ administrations, while the decisions on amnesty or release on parole are taken by the court. The response from the Department also states that allegedly, there are no peculiarities regarding the measures applied to the criminals-drug addicts, the law does not prescribe anything like this. Thus, if the law says nothing on this, why did they all kiss boots after Lukashenka’s speech, doing everything as he ordered, “in the harshest way”? – the prisoner’s mother wonders.
Green cloth badges for “drug addicts”
So, have the activists received any promises that the confinement conditions for prisoners-“drug addicts” will be improved? According to Larysa Zhyhar, Siarhei Daroshka has actually promised something.
“For example, to install telephones at places with the most acute lack thereof, so that everyone could call his relatives and close people. He has also promised distant education. Such experiment was held in the women’s colony in Homel, and everything allegedly went well, so Daroshka says they will start dissemination this experiment further. However, this concerns only humanitarian studies, like, it will be possible to study for a psychologist. He has also promised to create more jobs, so that the inmates could accumulate some finance before release. However, these are just promises; we’ll see how it goes… By now, the practice shows everything is getting only worse. For example, some colonies introduced green cloth badges for compulsory wearing by prisoners-“drug addicts”, as a symbol that they were sentenced over a drug-related article. Is it legal? This reminds of wearing yellow “David stars” in the ghetto. Did they replace them with the green ones? ,” – Larysa Zhyhar says.
The “Mothers’ Movement – 328”, headed by Larysa Zhyhar, still cannot obtain state registration, and the activists see violation of their constitutional right, and discrimination, in such attitude. After the Hrodna court denied them in registration, the lady complained to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus. The Supreme Court considered her complaint on May 23, 2016. Larysa Zhyhar does not know the decision yet – the paper from the court hasn’t arrived. However, the activist is 90% sure it will be a denial again.
The website of “Viasna”, which published the letter of prisoner of Mahiliou colony #15 Aleh, claims that the prisoner’s real name has been changed. Ihar, the father of the prisoner-“drug addict” also asked not to reveal his son’s surname, led by the same intention “do no harm”.
According to Interior Minister of Belarus Ihar Shunevich, the number of drug-related crimes committed by minors has decreased by 42% for 4 months of 2016, while the turnover of drug substances has decreased by one third. The law-enforcement officials believe this success is connected with the struggle against import of drugs to Belarus, as well as with the more brutal practice of punishment for such crimes. “The House of Representatives of the National Assembly” considered in the first reading the amendments to the laws aimed at strengthening responsibility for drug-related crimes.
The human rights center “Viasna” warns that “ the rooted illegal practice of discrimination of prisoners on grounds of committing a certain category of crimes, contradicts the national legislation and Belarus’ international obligations in the sphere of human rights and demands urgent correction.” The activists of the “Mothers’ Movement – 328” suggest introduction of borderline control at the Russian-Belarusian border in order to overcome the drug traffic.