Contributor(s)Pavel Sapelko / Human Rights Centre Viasna / Prison Insider

Contact with the outside world

Prisoners are entitled to one or two visits per month.

Visits normally last 20 to 30 minutes. A window with a small hole separates the people. They communicate through a telephone.

Some prison facilities are equipped with special visiting rooms that allow inmates to receive longer visits. They can last from three hours to three days.

Visits have to be authorised by the prosecutor.

Authorities often denied access to visits as a disciplinary sanction or a repressive measure.

Inmates can write and receive letters. The prison staff reads all correspondence. Letters often do not reach the recipient.

Prisoners can make phone calls for up to 15 minutes. Calls are often listened in on. Mobile phones are prohibited.

Judges may impose sentence reductions or remissions.

For a sentence of less than three years, the possibility of remission of sentence is contemplated only after one year. For a sentence of up to eight years, the minimum time is four years. For longer sentences, terms may be reviewed only after two-thirds of the sentence has been executed.

Inmates are eligible for parole only after having served half of the sentence. Decisions are pronounced, on average, one month later.

The President may pronounce an amnesty by a presidential decree. Only one year can be commuted. They are often granted to women, youth or seniors who have not committed serious crimes.

Lawyers should, in theory, be allowed to visit their clients in prison. Prison staff often denies these visits. Andrew Gaidukov, prosecuted for treason in 2013, did not have access to his lawyer until his conviction.

Lawyers are not allowed to speak to their clients in private in the area controlled by the special KGB police, in Minsk. They must write notes if they do not want to be heard.

Legal aid exists but inmates complain about the service provided by public defenders. They often refuse to be present during interrogations or to go visit their clients in prison, if they do not have the means to pay for the visit.

Prisoners who wish to benefit from legal representation in Belarussian may face constraints. Not all magistrates and lawyers speak the language fluently.

Defense lawyers have limited access to the evidence and expertise of the prosecutor. They have difficulties preparing and executing the defense. Courts often allow prosecutors to present as evidence information acquired during unlawful interrogations.

Detainees may file a complaint against the prison administration. But, in reality, there is no effective complaints collection system. Complaints are often withheld by the prison administration and do not reach the Office of the Prosecutor. The victim filing the complaint is punished by physical and psychological abuse or by isolation. It is almost impossible to avoid this sort of practices because the prison system remains closed to the public scrutiny.

Complaints that do reach the competent authorities rarely result in sanctions.

In 2014, the Department for the Execution of Punishments examined 96 complaints of abuses by agents. Between 2011 and 2014, the Office of the Prosecutor examined 158 complaints concerning coercive measures against convicted persons or persons in pre-trial detention. None of these complaints resulted in a sanction.

Between 2012 and 2014, the courts examined 15 cases involving disciplinary measures against inmates. All the complaints were declared unfounded.

Since 2011, the Office of the Prosecutor has not registered any disciplinary or penal sanction against public officers, for failure to comply with the fundamental legal safeguards attributed to pre-trial detainees.

Belarus is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture (CAT). It has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the CAT.

The prosecutor’s office organises inspections of prisons.

Public monitoring commissions monitor the respect of the fundamental rights of detained persons. Associations related to the prison administration and under the supervision of the prosecutor’s office are responsible for this task. The commissions visited eight prisons in 2013, seven in 2014, and three in 2015.

Wardens must authorise visits beforehand. The commission has to specify the time and the date of it. While conducting it, commissioners are not allowed to talk to inmates without the presence of a supervisor.

No follow-up reports are publishing after the visits. Between 2011 and 2013, monitoring commissions generally concluded that prison conditions met the required standards. Inmates never complain about the work of the prison staff during surveys.

The CAT believes that the monitoring commissions are reluctant to address human rights violations and accept their concealment by the prison administration. The 2014 CAT report indicates that, given the high dependency of the public monitoring committees on the Ministry of Justice and the Department of the Interior, the commissions cannot be objective and impartial, their activities cannot be considered effective. Human rights activist Pavel Sapelka considers that Public Monitoring Commissions are not a full-fledged tool of public control over the observance of prisoners’ rights.