Open letter from the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group to Vasyl Koshchynets, Head of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences
As reported here, in January 2007 following a brief hunger strike by prisoners and a subsequent visit by a Department commission, a special unit was brought into the colony, with men in masks and military gear. They brutally beat around 40 prisoners, those who told the commission about the prisoners’ demands.
The letter below refers to later events.
Dear Vasyl Vasylyovych,
In the Department’s penal institutions there are prisoners transferred in January and February 2007 from the Izyaslavsk Penal Colony No. 31 after the events linked with the use of a special forces unit in the colony.
The prisoners are held in penal colonies: No. 16, 50, 59, 77, 87, 105, 110 and 117.
We wish to inform you that some of the prisoners who suffered from the behaviour of the special units brought into Izyaslavsk Penal Colony No. 31 on 22 January 2007 have lodged applications with the European Court of Human Rights over the violations to their basic rights. Their applications have been registered with the Court and now await consideration.
The prisoners moved from Izyaslav Colony to other penal colonies were witnesses of these events.
We do not question the right of the colony administration to use their powers to maintain discipline, including through the imposition of disciplinary penalties. However, according to our information, some of those prisoners who were moved in connection with the events of 22 January are now having disciplinary penalties imposed far more often than was the case before the events in question.
This change in the treatment of prisoners may be interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights as a violation of Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights since if arbitrary disciplinary penalties are imposed on witnesses this infringes their right to give testimony without fear. Furthermore, these witnesses are under the protection of the European Agreement relating to Persons Participating in Proceedings of the European Court of Human Rights of 1996.
The only way of ensuring the interests of maintaining discipline while at the same time avoiding accusations against the government in the European Court of violating Article 34 of the European Convention is strict observance of procedure protecting a prisoner from arbitrary use of disciplinary penalties.
We would draw your attention to the fact that in accordance with Article 8 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a “convicted person is entitled to legal aid. To receive legal aid, those convicted may use the services of a law or other specialists in the field of law who by law have the right to provide legal aid personally, or on the instruction of a legal entity”.
You will be well aware that the implementation of this provision is in practice impeded by the fact that the overwhelming majority of convicted individuals cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.
Therefore, in order to ensure observance of the proper legal procedure and protection of the above-mentioned convicted prisoners, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is taking upon itself the commitment to provide each of them with the assistance of a lawyer on each occasion where the administration deems it necessary to impose disciplinary penalties or to take other actions which worsen the prisoner’s position.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group would therefore ask you to issue the necessary instructions to the administrations of the relevant penal colonies, in order that they:
– inform the prisoners transferred from Izyaslavsk Penal Colony No. 31 in connection with the events of 22 January 2007 that the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is committing itself to provide free legal aid during proceedings over threatened use of disciplinary penalties;
– inform the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in advance of any disciplinary proceedings in relation to the above-mentioned prisoners so that our lawyer has the opportunity to ensure effective legal representation for the prisoner.
Yevhen Zakharov, Iryna Rapp, Co-Chairs of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
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