The Belarusian authorities do not publish figures on the prison population
29,776 people were incarcerated as of December 2014 (latest figures available, provided by NGOs).
14.3% of the prison population was on remand at that time. Pre-trial detainees and convicts are placed in separate institutions.
The incarceration rate stood at 250 prisoners per 100 000 people before 1992, 566 in 2000 and 314 in 2014. The number of detainees began to increase in 1994, with the arrival of the current president. After 2000, the prison population rate began to decline, because the Executive decided to modify its prison policy, as a way to improve diplomatic relations with European democracies. Today the rate is stable but remains very high: it stood at 314 on 2014, whereas European average was 134.7 for that same period.
Official data estimates the occupancy rate stands at 83%. Human right activists distrust official data and believe the occupancy rate stands at over 100%, with some prisons being particularly overcrowded.
2232 women were imprisoned as of December 2014. They represented 7.5% of the prison population.
There are two facilities exclusively for women. In the other penal institutions, there are women districts.
As of September 2016, 1341 women were serving a sentence in three women-only Labor Treatment Profilactoriums (LTP). LTP are centers that host drug users and alcoholics.
At the LTP, women do not have access to the medical services or a gynecologist. No hygiene products or medicines are provided. There are 2.5 times more women than the official prison capacity (data for 2014).
Mothers have the option of keeping their child until the age of three. When the child reaches this age and the remainder of the mother’s sentence does not exceed one year, the child can stay with the mother until she leaves prison. Mothers with children have individual cells of 4m2. Children are kept in nurseries while mothers work.
Pregnant women can only be incarcerated in cases of “extreme necessity”. They are entitled to a higher portion of food. They must have all the necessary medical care and must give birth in a hospital outside the prison. Pregnant women stop working in the fourth month of pregnancy and return to work 147 days after childbirth. Women who show good behavior are entitled to spend their sentence outside, when they are pregnant or when they have a child under three years old, under the authorisation of the head of the institution. They are under constant control of the prison administration.
If they must remain in the establishment, they may receive parcels and unrestricted visits. Visits may be restricted as sanction, a practice that goes against the Rules of Bangkok.
All detained women are required to work.
Pregnant women and those with children in custody are entitled to receive at least 50% of their salary. The rest of the prison population receives at least 10%.
Women must work for free in the cleaning and maintenance of premises. Pregnant women and those over 55 are not forced to do so.
There are frequent cases of sexual harassment and abuse in penal institutions. Male supervisors carry out naked searches. Complaints about sexual abuse have been reported. Authorities do not take them into account most of the time. In Belarus there is no special mechanism for receiving complaints of sexual violence and harassment. It is even more difficult to make this type of complains in jail.
The UN Committee against Torture declared Belarus does not respect the Bangkok Rules in regards of conditions women are imprisoned in.
The association “The House” campaigns to improve prison conditions for female inmates. They denounce the sexual harassment and humiliation that female prisoners are subject to.
Number of specific institutions for women
Juvenile justice is under the wing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
There is no official data on the number of minors under juvenile justice control.
Legally, minors and adults must be placed in separate institutions. In practice, this is not always the case.
There is one facility for juvenile offenders. The Ministry of Internal Affairs closed a second one in 2014, after heavy international pressure.
Minors have access to high school training programmes and professional training. They cannot work.
Juveniles can be subject to confinement measures only if they constitute a public threat. Regular sanctions for minors are: to pay compensation, to ask for forgiveness, to repair the damage caused, to place the minor under the supervision of persons having parental authority and to place the minor in a special educational institution.
Minors over 14 years old can be imprisoned for serious crimes: murder, rape and theft with aggravating circumstances. Minors under 14 are sent to special closed schools. Those over 16 years old may be incarcerated for regular offenses but they cannot be sentenced to death and perpetuity.
To find out more about the juvenile justice system in Belarus, read the article “Expert: System of confinement of juvenile offenders requires close attention”, written by Belarusian human rights lawyer Pavel Sapelka.
Number of specific institutions for juveniles/minors
Foreigners represent 3.1% of the prison population.
They have the right to be assisted by a translator and to write complaints in their own language.
LGBTI persons represent between 3 and 5% of the prison population. The suicide rate is higher among LGBTI prisoners than among other prisoners. In temporary detention centers LGBTI detainees are placed in special cells.
A person who has an LGBTI friend or relative can be considered as such and therefore be victim of discrimination. Prisoners force LGBTI cellmates to clean toilets, remove garbage or clean the cell. Homosexuals are the last to have a shower and have access to meals. Women names are assigned to homosexual men.
Prison staff tend to overlook ill treatments enforced upon LGBTI prisoners. No particular measures are undertaken to prevent them. In some cases, LGBTI may request to be assigned to an individual cell, known as “the safe place”, where a separate surveillance camera is placed in case of emergencies.
Prisoners of conscience
Several NGOs, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) have confirmed the existence of prisoners of conscience in Belarus. Human rights defenders, journalists and political activists are detained for their political opinions. They are imprisoned under false accusations. A list of prisoners of conscience was drawn up by several NGOs in 2012.
Ales Bialiatski, president of the NGO Viasna, was sentenced, in 2011, to four and a half years in prison for tax evasion. For UN Human Rights Committee, the accusation was a state manoeuver; Bialiatski was convicted for his political views.
In August 2015, the authorities detained four young anarchists, Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski, Viachaslau Kasinerau and Yaraslau Ulyanenkau, accused of graffitied on walls. One of them was hospitalised after the administrative detention, two more were sent to prison. They were liberated, thanks to a mobilisation of civil society.
In March 2017, Viachaslau Kasinerau, an anarchist militant, is condemned for hooliganism for putting a rope around a statue of a Russian policeman during a peaceful demonstration.
Andrey Kashueski, a journalist, was imprisoned for wearing a pro-Europe ribbon at a demonstration, in 2015. He was forced to take psychiatric treatment in prison.
Young anarchists are often forced to join psychiatric hospitals because of their political opinions. The authorities created a psychiatric examination based on belonging to social movements. Alexander Latyshov was sent, in 2014, to the regional clinical psychiatric hospital in Gomel, under the heading “sent for review as part of his activities at the Young Front”.
Political prisoners receive differential treatment from supervisors. They regularly endure physical and verbal violence. The monitors place the political prisoners in the cells of the sick persons, to punish them for a few days. President Lukashenko releases political prisoners by period, with the aim of improving relations with European democracies. 25 political prisoners were released between 2011 and 2012. The president granted forgiveness to six political prisoners, in 2015.
The sick and the disabled
The Belarusian authorities are particularly harsh with those that commit drug-related offenses, including drug use. A special police force deals exclusively with drug traffickers.
In April 2016, the Minister of Internal Affairs said that those imprisoned for drug-related offenses must face more severe conditions than other prisoners. A specific uniform was created for them after that.
In the end of 2015, Yahor Pratasenia, received a 15 years’ prison sentence for drug dealing. The special investigating police of the Salihorsk drug control department torture him. He tried to commit a suicide on 4 January 2016. He never recovered. He died on 29 March 2016, at only 20 years old.
The authorities have set up detention centers for drug users and alcoholics, known as Labor Treatment Profilactoriums (LTP). The Department of the Execution of Punishment administers LTPs. These centers were part of the Soviet ‘punitive psychotherapy’ system. Belarus, Turkmenistan and Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic are the only ex-soviet countries that still impose this type of sentences.
There are nine LTP in the country; three of them host exclusively female inmates.
6788 people were serving a sentence in LTPs as of September 2016. Among them, 1341 were women.
Persons who have committed more than three alcohol-related or drug-impaired offenses, persons suffering from chronic alcoholism or drug dependency are placed in these detention centers. Women over 55, men over 60, minors, pregnant women, the critically ill and the disabled cannot be placed in a LTP.
The length of the sentence can go from six months to two years. They are forced to work.
They should receive psychological counseling but this measure is not respected in practice. Alcoholics do not receive any type of treatment; only around 5% stop drinking after being in an LTP.