Open letter, copied everywhere, so here’s hoping
The Department for the Execution of Sentences remains resourceful, if unconvincing, in their efforts to avoid providing information, in this case, concerning the deployment of a special anti-terrorist unit against prisoners at the Izyaslav Penal Colony in January 2007.
The events at Izyaslav Penal Colony No. 31 have been discussed here. The special unit was brought in a few days after a hunger strike by prisoners, which was called off following a visit by a commission from the State Department for the Execution of Sentences. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group ascertained that the special force men, in masks and military gear, beat up around 40 prisoners believed to have been the organizers of the hunger strike. These prisoners were then sent, in the clothes they had on and without their personal possessions to the Rivne and Khmelnytsky SIZO [pre-trial detention centres].
KHPG has given legal assistance to some of the prisoners involved, including help in making applications to the European Court of Human Rights. It has issued at least two public statements with regard to possible retaliation against the prisoners involved and said that any attempts to prevent them receiving legal assistance will be treated as a violation of Article 34 of the European Convention.
The problem remains as ever receiving information from the State Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department]. The civic organization “Donetsk Memorial” has also been endeavouring over the last year to ascertain what really happened. It sent a formal information request to the Department, but the latter refused to provide the information. It therefore sent a letter to the head of one of the Department’s divisions Oleksy Dvoinos on 19 January 2008, with copies sent to the Head of the Department, the Prosecutor General, the Minister of Justice and two parliamentary committees. It is signed by Oleksandr Bukalov, the Chair of the Donetsk Memorial Council and the Head of the Ukrainian Penitentiary Society, who has now issued it as an open letter.
Mr Bukalov begins with a summary of the tedious exchange of correspondence with the Department. He states that the number of letters is no accident, but the direct consequence of the difficulty in receiving information, and the Department’s claims that they have provided answers are not correct since the replies received did not answer the questions posed. “My first information request was sent at the end of January 2007 and was not answered at all. Unfortunately, it has become standard practice that I only receive a response if I copy my letter to the Ministry of Justice or the Prosecutor General“ The information was only partially provided in May, and then more or less fully in September.
“I would stress that it is the incomplete responses from the Department and at times incorrect information (at first, for example, it was stated that no prisoners were beaten by the special unit, however, thanks to the Prosecutor General, it was established that the beatings did in fact take place) which raise doubts as to whether the Department is fully adhering to legislation. It was to ensure that the Constitution and law had not been breached during the deployment of the special unit that I sent you a request for information on 4 October. In breach of the law, I was not provided with a response in substance to this request.
One of the reasons provided with references to legislation and a judgment issued by the Constitutional Court is that the information sought would divulge personal data without the people’s consent. Mr Bukalov points out that he asked for documents about the activities of a department which arouse doubts, and that it would be quite sufficient to blot out the names of specific prisoners.
He also wonders whether the Head of the Department, when he frequently makes public statements naming individuals serving sentences and the crimes they have been convicted of, has received the people’s written permission.
Mr Bukalov stresses that despite the public importance of the information being sought and the fact that the public needs to be certain that human rights are not being violated in penal institutions the Department continues to conceal its activities, using concern for prisoners’ privacy as pretext. This, he repeats, is while the Head of the Department publicly infringes the right to privacy set down in Article 32 of the Constitution.
The number of incidents over the last year confirms the doubts aroused by the Department’s secrecy and misleading information claiming that no beatings took place at Izyaslav. In response to questions about these incidents, the Department almost always denies reports that prisoners were beaten. Such denials are very often contradictory, unconvincing and elicit well-founded doubts.
Mr Bukalov repeats his demand for a response as soon as possible to his request for information regarding the protocols from the Regional and Appeal Commissions which he sent to the Department on 4 October 2007.
He stresses that the Department’s response, or lack of such, will receive the same public attention as his open letter, given the public importance of the information in establishing whether human rights are being observed in Ukraine’s penal institutions.
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