Mikalai Dziadok (4,5 years) is finishing his 3rd month in a solitary cell after having refused to work on Saturdays. Work is obligatory in Belarusian penal colonies, but is regulated by the Labour Code, which prescribes that a person shouldn’t work more than 40 hours a week. Mikalai was forced to work more on Saturdays, but refused to do so. He was punished with 6 months of solitary confinement on June 1st. During this period he is deprived of all dates, phone calls and food supply from the outside.
Ihar Alinevich (8 years) served 14 days in a punishment cell for refusing to clean the inner yard of the colony. This work is done only by certain prisoners who relate to the downcasts*. Thus, the prison administration tries to make him the downcast as well. In Belarusian prisons the downcasts do all the dirty work, eat and work in the distance, they are objects of humiliation and often used for sex by other prisoners. The pressure can be the result of the fact that Ihar’s mother started publishing his prison diaries. Earlier he refused to sign a petition for mercy.
Aliaksandr Frantskevich (3 years) was put in a punishment cell for refusing to clean the cell, which is the work for the downcasts. Before that he was visited by a top-rank policemen, who had organised the arrests of anarchists in autumn 2010. He tried to intimidate Aliaksandr and hinted at the necessity to sign the petition for mercy. Moreover, other prisoners get punished for having contacts with Aliaksandr.
Jauhen Vas’kovish (7 years) doesn’t receive any letters from people other than his parents. The censor only shows him empty envelopes. He informed that he had also been asked to sign the petition for mercy, but refused to do so.
Artsiom Prakapenka (7 years) conducts a hunger strike since August 8th and is now in a punishment cell. Artsiom was forced to work in the first shift, thus he cannot make a special vegetarian lunch for himself, as he had done before, when he worked in the second shift. He also refused to sigh the petition for pardon and receives letters only from parents.
Pavel Syramolatau (7 years) signed the petition for pardon in June, but has not been released so far.
* There is a strict hierarchy in post-soviet prisons, according to which several “casts” are distinguished. Every cast has a certain scope of rights and duties. The hierarchy is now not so strict as before, but still the prison authority has to put up with it. Sometimes it uses the hierarchy in its own interests.
“Blatnye” – professional criminals, part of ‘mafia’ or organised groups outside of prison, are on top of the hierarchy. They are in charge of illegal supply of food, tea, cigarettes and cell phones in prison. They guarantee the ‘prison law’ and judge conflicts between other prisoners. Usually don’t work.
“Muzhiki” – ordinary prisoners, the most numerous group. They work, don’t fight for the power in prison, don’t collaborate with the prison administration.
“Kozly” (trusties, ‘activists’) – prisoners, openly collaborating with the prison authority, working for the administration (librarians, different managers, etc.). It is frowned on to get in touch with this cast.
“Opuschennye” (the downcasts) – gays, people that are used for sex (even if they are not gay), prisoners, sentenced for paedophilia, rapists, and people that get in touch with the previously mentioned. It is enough to take something from the downcast, to touch him or to eat with him at one table to be considered a downcast as well. They don’t have any rights and usually do the dirty work – washing toilets, etc. They always live separated from other prisoners.
The prison authority tried to break the ‘laws’ and mix all kinds of prisoners, but it always resulted in mass disorders and suicide attempts. For any prisoner it is better to die or get punished than to be labelled a downcast by others and serve the rest of the sentence in humiliation. It is almost impossible to change your cast.