An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


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 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.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits the use of torture. Although the government amended the criminal code in 2012 to add a separate article to define torture in accordance with international law, there were reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture.

In the first three months of the year, 38 new cases of mistreatment were documented by the Coalition against Torture–a group of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)–with a number of victims alleging severe physical abuse. Specifically, 13 of 15 victims reported such abuse as beatings on the face, head, kidneys, and abdomen after the binding of legs and hands, and passing electrical current through nails. On March 28, Jovidon Hakimov stated in court his confession that he tried to recruit fighters for the extremist group ISIS was obtained under duress. Hakimov was accused of recruiting several citizens to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. On March 30, a court sentenced Hakimov to 15 years in prison. According to his lawyers, Hakimov claimed police severely beat him during an interrogation following his January arrest. Hakimov’s lawyers alleged that Hakimov’s nose was broken during the interrogation and that police also subjected him to electric shock. Hakimov’s lawyers also claimed the court rejected their request for a medical examination of Hakimov to verify the physical abuse. Several police officers who testified at the Dushanbe court hearing rejected Hakimov’s claims.

There were conflicting reports on the mistreatment of imprisoned lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, in prison since 2015 (see section 1.e.). As of October the head of the pretrial detention center number 1 (SIZO) reported to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty that Yorov had been held in solitary confinement since September 29; he denied allegations of torture and other mistreatment against Yorov. Yorov’s wife told journalists that the head of prison administration assured her that her husband was safe and said he was sent to solitary confinement after guards found money in his cell in violation of prison rules. Amnesty International reported that Yorov might have been held in solitary confinement four times. In contrast to the claims of the government, Yorov’s mother reported after a visit to the detention center that guards subjected her son and other cellmates to regular beatings, one of which allegedly resulted in his hospitalization at the detention center facility. She claimed also Yorov told her the beatings were accompanied by insults, humiliation, and threats.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions reportedly were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government operated 10 prisons, including one for women, and 12 pretrial detention facilities. Exact conditions in the prisons remained unknown, but detainees and inmates described harsh and life-threatening conditions, including extreme overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Penal Reform International, an organization conducting prison reform work with regional representation out of Kazakhstan, described the conditions in the women’s prison as frigid in the winter, with only intermittent electricity and heat, and a lack of food provisions for inmates and staff alike. Disease and hunger were serious problems. UN agencies reported that infection rates of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons were significant and the quality of medical treatment was poor. Authorities often held juvenile boys with adult men.

Administration: A government Office of the Ombudsman exists, and its ombudsman visited prisons but resolved fewer than 2 percent of filed complaints. NGOs reported mistrust of the ombudsman due to the office’s loyalty to the president and frequent dismissal of human rights concerns. A special monitoring group with ombudsmen and NGO representatives conducted announced visits of prison conditions. No known complaints were filed regarding specific prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Justice continued to restrict access to prisons or detention facilities for representatives of the international community. Throughout the year the Coalition against Torture and the human rights ombudsman conducted visits of closed institutions, although officials denied Coalition against Torture monitors private interviews with detainees or access to internal correctional institution documents. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to lack access due to the absence of an agreement with the government, a situation existing since 2004.


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 and limits the situations in which police officers may resort to physical force and the use of firearms. During the year there were multiple reports of the use of excessive force by security forces. Most complaints involved maltreatment or use of excessive force during incident response or arrest.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to human rights monitoring organizations, police station detention cells generally did not comply with international standards and lacked sanitation facilities and bedding, although police were making efforts to improve them. The prison in Dili (Becora), the country’s largest, was overcrowded. It had an estimated capacity of 290 inmates, but in September held 547 adult and juvenile male convicts and pretrial detainees. According to independent monitoring, juvenile and adult prisoners were in the same block, although separate blocks housed pretrial detainees and convicts. Gleno Prison was not overcrowded and held women as well as adult male convicts and pretrial detainees in separate blocks. Conditions were the same for male and female prisoners, who shared recreation areas. Housing blocks separated nonviolent offenders from violent offenders. There were no specific supports for offenders with mental disabilities.

Authorities provided food three times daily in the prisons; however, there was no budget for food in police station detention centers, and officers and independent monitors reported that police purchased food for prisoners out of their personal funds. While authorities provided water in prisons, it was not always available in detention centers. Due to lack of Ministry of Health staff, the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) found that there was no regular staffing of medical centers at the hospitals and medical staff might only be available on a weekly or monthly basis at the facility. For urgent cases and those beyond basic needs, authorities took inmates to a local hospital in Gleno or Dili. Access to clean toilets was generally sufficient, although without significant privacy. PDHJ assessed ventilation and lighting as adequate in prisons but not in detention centers. Prisoners were able to exercise for two hours daily.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. The PDHJ oversees prison conditions and prisoner welfare. It monitored inmates, and reported that the government was generally responsive to recommendations. Nonetheless, some human rights monitoring organizations questioned how widely known the complaint mechanism was and whether prisoners felt free to utilize it.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by NGOs and independent human rights observers.

Improvements: Authorities completed construction of a new prison in Suai, which held 25 prisoners.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution prohibits subjecting any person to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment, no laws address torture specifically. According to the HRC, police used excessive force–including torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment–to obtain information and confessions when apprehending, interrogating, and detaining criminal suspects. For example, the HRC stated the March 19 death of Mark Chongwa was a result of torture.

The HRC reported allegations of torture in every detention facility it monitored but noted that it was difficult to prosecute perpetrators because no law exists that explicitly prohibits torture or the use of excessive force. Confessions obtained through torture are admissible in court.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

During the year the government changed its prison policy from punitive to correction and rehabilitation of inmates. Nevertheless, physical conditions in prisons and detention centers remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, frequent outbreaks of disease, food and potable water shortages, and poor sanitation and medical care.

Physical Conditions: According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA), there were 20,916 detainees (of whom 4,000 were awaiting trial at year’s end) in 90 prison facilities with a capacity of 8,550 inmates. PRISCCA noted overcrowding was due to a slow-moving judicial system, outdated laws, and increased incarceration due to higher numbers of persons driven to crime by poverty. Other factors included limitations on judges’ power to impose noncustodial sentencing, a retributive police culture, and poor bail and bonding conditions. Indigent inmates lacked access to costly bail and legal representation through the Law Association of Zambia. Other organizations such as the Legal Aid Board and the National Prosecutions Authority were also difficult for inmates to access due to a lack of representation outside Lusaka.

Other than the March 19 death of Mark Chongwa, no data on or estimates of deaths in jails, pretrial or other detention centers, or prisons attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities were available. While the HRC noted that prison overcrowding and sanitary and other physical conditions fell below international standards, it reported no cases of authorities abusing prisoners and no complaints of abuse filed by inmates. The HRC stated that it had no evidence of political prisoners being treated differently from other prisoners.

The law requires separation of different categories of prisoners, but only female prisoners were held separately. According to the HRC, conditions for female prisoners were modestly better primarily because of less crowded facilities. Juveniles were detained in the same holding cells with adult detainees. Prisons held an undetermined number of children who were born in prison or living in prisons while their mothers served sentences. Incarcerated women who had no alternative for childcare could choose to have their infants and children under age four with them in prison. According to PRISCCA, correctional facilities designated for pretrial detainees included convicted inmates.

Many prisons had deficient medical facilities and meager food supplies. Lack of potable water resulted in serious outbreaks of water- and food-borne diseases, including dysentery and cholera. PRISCCA reported that prison food was inadequate nutritionally. The prison system remained understaffed with only two full-time medical doctors and 84 qualified health-care providers serving the prison population. The incidence of tuberculosis remained very high due to overcrowding, lack of compulsory testing, and prisoner transfers. The supply of tuberculosis medication and other essential drugs was erratic. A failure to remove or quarantine sick inmates resulted in the spread of tuberculosis and other illnesses and the deaths of several prisoners. The HRC and PRISCCA expressed concern at the lack of isolation facilities for the sick and for persons with psychiatric problems. Although prisoners infected with HIV were able to access antiretroviral treatment services within prison health-care facilities, their special dietary needs and that of those on tuberculosis treatment were not met adequately. Prisons also failed to address adequately the needs of persons with disabilities. Inadequate ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and basic and emergency medical care remained problems.

According to the 2013 National Audit of Prisons, female inmates had limited access to health-care services. Gynecological care, cervical cancer screening, prenatal services, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs were nonexistent. Female inmates relied on donations of underwear, sanitary pads, diapers for infants and toddlers, and soap.

Authorities denied prisoners access to condoms because the law criminalizes sodomy and prevailing public opinion weighed against providing condoms. Prison authorities, PRISCCA, and the Medical Association of Zambia advocated for prisoners’ conjugal rights as a way to reduce prison HIV rates. Discriminatory attitudes toward the most at-risk populations (persons in prostitution and men who have sex with men) stifled the development of outreach and prevention services for these groups.

Administration: There were no ombudsmen to promote the interests of inmates. Prisoners and detainees generally could not submit complaints to judicial authorities or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent local and international NGOs and religious institutions.

Improvements: During the year the government introduced a prison policy of correction and rehabilitation of inmates. It changed the penal system from a punitive to a correctional model in order to transform prison facilities to concentrate on correction and rehabilitation. It stated that instead of being punished for wrongdoing, offenders required rehabilitation so that they may better contribute to the development of the country when released and reintegrated into society. The August opening of a 300-inmate capacity correctional facility in Monze increased total prison system capacity from 8,250 to 8,550 inmates.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future