The prison caste system is often raised in the media in recent times; it is often discussed in connection with the political prisoners. However, almost all who write on the subject know about it at best from the stories of former inmates or use common social stereotypes. As a result, there are often a lot of blunders and false representation.
Prison conditions are difficult and sometimes life threating. A prisoner has an average space of 2m2. Prisoners are forced to work and compensations are very low. The Department for the Execution of Punishment does not provide security equipment. Accidents at work are common and sometimes lead to death. Medical care is precarious. Tuberculosis is four times more prevalent in prisons than outside.
The Lukashenka regime often uses politically motivated administrative detentions for up to 15 days to fight against civil society and the opposition in Belarus.
Akrestsina Dentention Centre
Standard cells in the Akrestsina facility are approximately 15 square metres, usually for five to six people. There also have a toilet and a sink in the cell (political activists often joke that the whole cell is actually a large closet). So each person has about two square metres of space.
Such high density is possible due to the fact that prisoners sleep together on a “stage” – the so-called improvised wooden bed that takes up most of the camera. Naturally, there is not enough space on the stage for everyone, so the residents have to sleep very tight. Quite often, people sleep so tightly that if one person on the “stage” wants to turn over, all the others have to turn over altogether.
Heating and ventilation are such that it is cold in the cells in winter and hot in summer. In some cells, it is impossible to open the window, so in summer the temperature exceeds the limit. It is difficult to provide exact numbers as there are no thermometers in the cells, and the police do not give accurate information. People arrested for the first time always remember the toilet, which is just a hole in the floor.
Prisoners do not have watches, although “experienced” people can tell approximate time by the daily routine (wake up, breakfast, lunch, dinner) and by planes flying over Minsk. Generally, direct communication with the outside world is impossible – all electronic devices are taken away.
Prisoners can write letters using ordinary envelopes but police officers read letters and often do not send them to the addressees. Further, every seven days, a prisoner has a right to take a shower.
Apart from civil activists, most people who are detained there are petty thieves, drug addicts or homeless. From time to time, the police “throw” political activists into the cells with sick people on purpose.
Administrative detentions are especially hard to bear for women who are afraid of rats. Rats feel as calm as humans in the Akrestsina cells, they even move quite slowly.
Struggle For Human Conditions
Naturally, everything described above violates international standards, as well as Belarusian legislation. Political activists have long been struggling for better confinement conditions in the centre for the isolation of law-breakers.
However, sometimes it is impossible. For the last several years there is a very popular practice in Akrestsina – to drive the newly released prisoners to the industrial areas of the city and throw them out of the car there. Usually, activists call a taxi and go back to the detention center to meet with the people who came to express their solidarity.