Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, the Committee for State Security (KGB), riot police, and other security forces, often without identification and in plain clothes, beat detainees on occasion. Security forces also reportedly mistreated individuals during investigations. Police occasionally beat persons during arrests.
Human rights advocates, opposition leaders, and activists released from detention facilities reported maltreatment and other forms of physical and psychological abuse of suspects during criminal and administrative investigations.
On March 25, special police forces raided an apartment in which 58 human rights observers, experts, and foreign journalists gathered in advance of unauthorized protest in Minsk. According to eyewitnesses, when a doorbell rang and human rights advocate Aliaksei Loika opened the door officers assaulted Loika, who was hospitalized and diagnosed with a concussion the same day. On August 28, a Minsk district investigative committee turned down Loika’s request to investigate his beatings because it stated law enforcement officers did not apply excessive physical force.
On March 29, a court in Minsk sentenced Mikalai Dziadok, an anarchist and opposition activist, to 10 days in administrative detention for resisting police and participating March 25 in unauthorized protests in Minsk. Dziadok was hospitalized after his detention with a concussion and minor facial and head injuries. In court he claimed that a police officer hit him in the head a number of times. Police testified that Dziadok shouted political slogans and resisted police during his detention, requiring officers to apply physical force. Dziadok’s father filed a complaint asking investigators to look into his son’s beating, but authorities turned it down.
There were numerous reports of cases of hazing of conscripts into the army that included beatings and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. Some of those cases reportedly resulted in deaths. For example, on October 13, a senior official from the Investigative Committee announced a criminal investigation into alleged hazing and violence that preceded the discovery October 3 of the body of a 21-year-old soldier, Aliaksandr Korzhych, in the basement of his military barracks near Barysau.
On October 16, the government also confirmed that soldier Genadz Sarokin died on September 2 while assigned to a military unit in the Brest region and that his case was under investigation. In a separate case, authorities reopened the investigation into a purported suicide on March 31 of another soldier, Artsiom Bastsiuk, at military grounds in the Barysau region. On October 12, Bastsiuk’s family received notification that his death was not the result of a criminal act, but the family continued to maintain that he was psychologically abused and harassed during his service.
Authorities reported isolated cases of prosecution of suspected military offenders. For example, on May 30, a district court in Brest sentenced an army sergeant to three years restricted freedom, a form of house arrest, for abusing his powers and beating a younger soldier. The offender was also to pay 4,000 rubles ($2,050) in moral damages.
PRISON AND DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor and in many cases posed threats to life and health.
Physical Conditions: According to local activists and human rights lawyers, there were shortages of food, medicine, warm clothing, and bedding as well as inadequate access to basic or emergency medical care and clean drinking water. Ventilation of cells and overall sanitation were poor, and authorities failed to provide conditions necessary for maintaining proper personal hygiene. Prisoners frequently complained of malnutrition and low-quality uniforms and bedding. Some former political prisoners reported psychological abuse and sharing cells with violent criminals. The law permits family and friends to provide detainees with food and hygiene products and to send them parcels by mail, but authorities did not always allow this.
According to a May 26 report by independent survey organizations that questioned 130 individuals detained between March 15 and April 19 on charges related to unsanctioned demonstrations, approximately 79 percent of respondents stated that authorities failed to inform their families of their whereabouts, and 83 percent stated prison authorities had not properly informed them of their rights, obligations, and the detention centers’ regulations. Approximately 17 percent complained of a lack of medical care and 27 percent said they were denied access to lawyers. More than 50 percent of the detainees complained of unsanitary conditions. Only 21 percent of those surveyed were not impeded by prison authorities from appealing their sentences.
Overcrowding of pretrial holding facilities, and prisons generally, was a problem. For example, individuals who were held for short periods in a holding facility in the town of Dziarzhynsk reported that they had to take shifts to sleep, as there were more inmates than beds in the cell.
Authorities allowed persons sentenced to a form of internal exile (khimiya) to work outside detention facilities. These individuals were required to return at night to prison barracks, where they lived under strict conditions and supervision.
Although there were isolated reports that police placed underage suspects in pretrial detention facility cells with adult suspects and convicts, authorities generally held juvenile prisoners separately from adults at juvenile penal colonies, arrest houses, and pretrial holding facilities. In general conditions for female and juvenile prisoners were slightly better than for male prisoners.
According to human rights NGOs and former prisoners, authorities routinely abused prisoners.
On March 23, a Minsk district court ruled in the case of the death of 21-year old Ihar Ptichkin that the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of holding facilities, should pay 20,000 rubles ($10,300) in moral damages to his mother, 10,000 rubles ($5,150) to his sister, and 6,000 rubles ($3,100) to cover the costs of his funeral. These damages were one third of what the family requested in a suit contesting his death in custody. After an alleged beating Ptichkin suffered a heart attack and died in a pretrial detention center in Minsk in 2013. In October 2016 a Minsk district court convicted prison doctor Aliaksandr Krylou, who was involved in Ptichkin’s case, of negligence and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment.
Credible sources maintained that prison administrators employed inmates to intimidate political prisoners and compel confessions. They also reported that authorities neither explained nor protected political prisoners’ legal rights and excessively penalized them for minor violations of the prison rules.
In view of poor medical care, observers believed tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and other communicable diseases were widespread in prisons. In 2014 a senior tuberculosis control officer reported that tuberculosis infection in prisons was quadruple the national average but claimed that only up to 4 percent of the 7,400 tuberculosis patients across the country were in prisons.
Human rights NGOs reported that prison inmates and individuals held in internal exile often complained of lack of employment opportunities or low pay. In August 2016 the head of the Interior Ministry’s Corrections Department, Siarhei Daroshka, stated that of the average 510 rubles ($205) salary, inmates would get only 10 percent and the rest would go to cover the costs of their imprisonment and to repay any debts or damages ordered by the court.
Administration: As in the previous year, authorities claimed to have conducted annual or more frequent investigations and monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. Human rights groups, however, asserted that such inspections, when they did occur, lacked credibility in view of the absence of an ombudsperson and the inability of reliable independent human rights advocates to visit prisons or provide consultations to prisoners. In July authorities approved the application of Aleh Hulak, chairperson of the human rights group Belarusian Helsinki Committee, to join the Ministry of Justice’s commission on prison conditions monitoring. In August the ministry organized a visit to a high security prison in Hrodna. The visit reportedly was closely monitored by the head of the prison administration. The commission, mainly composed of the ministry’s officials and representatives of progovernmental NGOs, failed to produce any comprehensive reports.
Prisoners and detainees had limited access to visitors, and denial of meetings with families was a common punishment for disciplinary violations. Authorities often denied or delayed political prisoners’ meetings with family as a means of pressure and intimidation.
Although the law provides for freedom of religion, and there were no reports of egregious infringements, authorities generally prevented prisoners from holding religious services and performing ceremonies that did not comply with prison regulations.
Former prisoners reported that prison officials often censored or did not forward their complaints to higher authorities and that prison administrators either ignored or selectively considered requests for investigation of alleged abuses. Prisoners also reported that prison administrators frequently refused to provide them with copies of responses to their complaints, which further complicated their defense. Complaints could result in retaliation against prisoners who spoke out, including humiliation, death threats, or other forms of punishment and harassment.
Corruption in prisons was a serious problem, and observers noted that parole often depended on bribes to prison personnel or a prisoner’s political affiliation.
Independent Monitoring: Despite numerous requests to the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice, government officials refused to meet with human rights advocates or approve requests from NGOs to visit detention and prison facilities. In its 2015 response to Paval Sapelka of the human rights NGO Vyasna, the head of Interior Ministry’s Corrections Department claimed it would be “inexpedient” for him to visit detention facilities and monitor their conditions.