The forum was dedicated to the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which is celebrated in the world on June 26. It was also attended by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Pavel Latushko, representative of the Legal Commission of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Harry Pogonyailo, representative of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for Constitutional Reform, director of the European Dialogue Center Anatoly Lebedko, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Kara McDonald, representative of the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus Victoria Fedorova and Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council for Belarus Anais Marin. Olga Karach’s report was devoted to torture and ill-treatment of children in penitentiary institutions.

Olga Karach drew attention to the fact that the protection of children is declared as one of the priorities of the social policy of Belarus, but government treats minors in prisons. It mainly concerns pre-trial detention, torture and bullying in a pre-trial detention centre. Teenagers can’t stand the pressure – the result is suicide attempts in prisons.

The main thing that minors face is participation in operational search activities. The administration of penitentiary institutions encourages prison subculture, uses handcuffs and torture. Children are interrogated without parents, teachers and legal representatives, detained minors are not provided medical, psychological and other assistance, even in cases of suicide. Administration of prisons uses colour differentiation.

“Highlighting a detained and a prisoner in a certain colour indicates that a certain type of torture will be applied to this person. Prisoners in prison are in unequal conditions, and the administration in prisons pays increased attention to “coloured” prisoners. Colour indicator increases chances of receiving an additional punishment (including placement in a punishment cell), deprivation of visits and parcels from relatives, difficulties with obtaining a conditional early sentence. It leads to stigmatization and discrimination of certain groups of prisoners,” Olga Karach said.

In prison, a minor is not protected from obtaining the status of a “malicious person”, which has colossal consequences for him, Olga Karach stressed in her speech: “For example, “malicious people” do not fall under amnesty. As a result, when prison administrations learn that an amnesty is soon, they begin to assign the status of a “malicious person” to underage prisoners-328 for any minor offences, and often even without them, to deprive prisoners-328 of the right to amnesty”.

Olga Karach gave two examples of cases of torture of children in prisons. One of them occurred with a 17-year-old teenager in 2019. He was accused of raping a minor, which he did not do (the examination also showed this). But in the pre-trial detention centre, law enforcement officers beat out confessions from him, because of which he tried to commit suicide. The child also had a central nervous system lesion, in which he needs to take medications. Law enforcement officers knew about the boy’s diagnosis but did not make any preferences and the possible consequences of such an attitude towards him. The court found the guy guilty of rape and sentenced him to 8 years in prison.

Another case was recorded in 2018 with an eleventh-grader who was detained on charges under Article 328 of the Criminal Code. In the IVS, the guy tried to commit suicide, which law enforcement officers tried to hide. Even the hospital did not confirm the presence of traces of a suicide attempt. Now the young man is in IC-2, where he will have to serve about four more years.

After the 2020 elections, cases of torture against children and adolescents have become more frequent. They are being punished because the government wants to frighten the youth. Juvenile Belarusians know that this is also waiting for them if they suddenly dare to speak out against the regime. But our children deserve better than to live in constant fear all their lives. And on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we want to be sure that torture will soon end on the territory of Belarus.