The Human Rights Center “Viasna” published an open letter by political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok, who draws attention to the gross violations of the rights of those held in prisons, disadvantages and throw-backs of “correctional” institutions, as well as unfair punishment under Article 411 of the Criminal Code:
– Greetings. My name is Mikalai Dziadok. I am writing this letter to all those for whom the words justice, humanism and human dignity is not an empty phrase.
On February 26 this year, I was convicted under Part 1 of Article 411 of the Criminal Code to 1 year imprisonment.
The title of this article is “willful disobedience to the requirements of the administration of the correctional institution”. The sentence was handed down in prison just 5 days before the end of my previous term – 4 years and 6 months. I also note that I received the maximum penalty under this article – 1 year out of possible 1 year. In 2012, former political prisoner Zmitser Dashkevich was convicted under the same article.
What was my “crime”? 16 disciplinary violations in almost 2 years in prison number 4, and in particular: wearing a tracksuit, talking to inmates in neighboring cells and walking around the cell after 10 p.m. It is also important that for each of the 16 violations I was reprimanded, either receiving a warning or 5 to 10 days in the punishment cell, thus serving 60 days in the punishment cell of this prison alone.
The Constitution, the Criminal Code and the Criminal Executive Code of Belarus declare a lot of good principles and rights, but they are trampled into the mud while Belarus has Article 411 of the Criminal Code, which allows you to send a man to the colony for 1 year (or 2 years under the second part of this article) for wearing or not wearing certain clothes, for a conversation with your cellmate. Is there such a terrible and absurd legal norm elsewhere in the world?!
Initially, Article 411 of the Criminal Code was introduced to deal with crime bosses in prison and the criminal laws inherited by Belarus from the Soviet era. Today, however, criminal laws are almost universally defeated by the authorities, and the article was and is increasingly being used against political prisoners and other inmates fighting for their rights. The very wording of the article opens up a space for moral violence and humiliation. Example: a prison inspector spits on the asphalt and gives the convict a mop to clean it up. He refuses. Such a refusal is enough for criminal prosecution! One of the convicts told me about such a case, and even if it is not quite true or exaggerated – everything is within the law, and this is the worst thing about it. In full accordance with the law, the prisoner can be put in prison for refusal to perform work that humiliates him! And I do not know even a single case of acquittal under Article 411 of the Criminal Code.
In general, human rights violations and abuses in Belarusian prisons have reached such a scale that they have become a system and a habit, they can be described in a whole book! But in this appeal, I can’t seize the unseizable and will focus only on Article 411 of the Criminal Code.
This scope for arbitrary actions of prison administrations is created by the Interior Ministry’s Internal Rules, which is a law for each convict. However, convicts are not familiarized with the entire rules, only partly, saying that the document is “for official use”, which does not prevent the administration to demand their observance by the convicts. The rules themselves are written in the manner so as to punish anyone at any time for such things as: being unshaven, wearing dirty clothes or shoes, unbuttoned collar, improper greeting or not greeting a representative of the administration, not standing up in his presence of prison authorities and so on and so on. Often acts of violations are simply falsified and then try to prove that your shoes were actually clean! It is for such “violations” that Belarusian political prisoners continue to be put in the punishment cell, PKT (cell-type premises), deprived of family visits: Mikalai Statkevich, Ihar Alinevich, Artsiom Prakapenka, Yuahen Vaskovich. Moreover, strict compliance with the rules is demanded only for those who somehow “stand out”: political prisoners and those who dare to speak about their rights. The others have more or less calm lives – until they are silent. How many times have I watched the application of Article 411 of the Criminal Code, and it was always revenge to the prisoner for his indomitable will, for the defense of his rights and never anything else.
In their official publications, correctional officers (though it would more correct to call them punitive) constantly repeat that they took the best from the Soviet penal system. It is true, if you the best things are a total disregard for the individual, ruthless suppression of prisoners’ will, promoting division into castes and roles, use of fear as the only method of control. The President of Belarus likes to say that Belarus is the center of Europe. But why then this “center” grossly ignores its international commitments – at least the Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees respect for human dignity, the right to humane treatment and a fair trial? A convict in Belarus is a powerless and dependent creature whose fate is entirely in the hands of the officials of the prison and the Department of Corrections. If they want to – they will put you in the cooler, PKT, under the prison regime, they can reduce the status of the convict to the fact that he will cease to exist as a person for others (for these cases there are loyal prisoners who can execute any order), or extend the sentence. This feeling of despair and powerlessness is difficult to convey – it should be felt.
Of course, I would really like to shout to the whole world about the injustice and evil caused to me by the penal system, but I do want to be the last convict under Article 411 of the Criminal Code. Therefore, I ask the international and Belarusian human rights bodies, to all those interested in human rights, international organizations and to all who are not indifferent, to people of Belarus: do everything possible for the repeal of Article 411 of the Criminal Code. The Belarusian society is atomized, constrained by fear and conformism, separate groups can barely defend their economic rights, and those who are trying to protect their political rights are subject to endless repression. However, I am convinced that Belarusians will wake up and realize – “the one who exchanged one’s freedom for security does not deserve neither the former nor the latter”, that the collective will of the people can force the state machine to listen to reason and begin to fulfill its international obligations.
Of course, the world’s attention and that of Europe today is focused on the Ukraine, where people die in tens and hundreds, and it seems that the suffering of the five political prisoners in a relatively stable and peaceful Belarus is a trifle? However, let’s not forget that the events in Ukraine began largely due to lack of respect for human dignity, the attempts to impose on society living in fear and an anti-democratic system of values. What are we witnessing in Belarus, is it not the same thing?
I therefore send to you and all those who have the power and ability to influence the situation my hope that what is happening to me will not happen to anyone in Belarus.
Mikalai Dziadok, an activist of the anarchist movement, was sentenced on May 27, 2011 by the Court of Minsk’s Zavodski district under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism) to 4.5 years of imprisonment in the colony. The activist pleaded not guilty and refused to sign a petition for clemency to the President.
While serving his sentence in late May 2012 as a result of a decision by the head of Shklou colony No. 7 Mikalai Dziadok was transferred to cell-type premises for six months. Prior to that, he was repeatedly forced to write a clemency petition. During his stay in Mahiliou colony No. 15 and colony No. 17 in Shklou Mikalai received more than 16 penalties for various trivial violations.
In November 2014, three months before the end of the sentence Mikalai Dziadok new criminal charges under Article 411 of the Criminal Code for “violation of the sentence”. On February 26, 5 days before the end of the term, the Leninski District Court of Mahiliou sentenced Mikalai Dziadok to an additional one year in prison in a penal colony under Art. 411 of the Criminal Code.