In response to an information request submitted by the Global Detention Project and the NGO Human Constanta, Belarus Deputy Minister of the Interior Ministry Aleksandr Barsukov confirmed that during the pandemic non-nationals who violate the country’s legislation may continue to face detention and deportation. He wrote, “For foreigners violating the legislation of the Republic of Belarus on the plight of foreign citizens and persons who have taken citizenship, measures are applied in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Administrative Offenses, including deportation.” However, he specified that foreigners stuck in the country for reasons outside their control will be granted stay extensions: “Foreigners who cannot leave the Republic of Belarus for reasons beyond their control, the length of stay is extended.”
Belarus has attracted significant criticism for its slow and limited response to the pandemic, and few official containment measures have been adopted. With President Lukashenko publicly downplaying the pandemic–which he has dismissed as a “psychosis”– authorities have refused to cancel large public events such as football matches or the country’s Victory Day military parade. Several small measures were, however, adopted with regards to prisons, with authorities suspending visits on 16 March and issuing new guidance on supplies to be delivered to inmates. Reportedly, every 30 days prisoners may receive food packages weighing up to 10kg, but they may only contain items authorities deem necessary for the prevention of respiratory illnesses (specifically: citrus fruits, garlic, onions, and apples).
To date, however, no steps have been taken to release prisoners – or foreign detainees – prompting the United Civic Party to launch a petition in April calling for prisoners to be released. It warned that if measures were not taken, prisons will “turn into mass graves.” Family members of inmates sent an open letter to the president requesting an amnesty bill which will permit the release or reduced sentencing of vulnerable people and those sentenced for non-violent crimes.
On 7 May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the government to release all children and young people imprisoned for drug-related offences. They called on authorities “to avoid by all means the detention of children, to release those who do not pose a threat to society … which is especially necessary in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
- Deputy Minister of Interior, Response to GDP and Human Constanta Information Request, 11 May 2020, www.globaldetentionproject.org
- A. Makhovsky, “Nobody Will Die of Coronavirus in Belarus, Says President,” Reuters, 13 April 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-belarus/nobody-will-die-from-coronavirus-in-belarus-says-president-idUSKCN21V1PK
- Change.org, “Требуем максимально широкую амнистию. Срочно. COVID-19 превратит колонии в братские могилы,” https://bit.ly/2ypyw1R
- Вясна, “Осужденных лишили свиданий из-за коронавируса,” 17 March 2020, https://spring96.org/ru/news/96246
- OHCHR, “UN Experts Urge Belarus to Release Children and Young People Jailed for Drug Offences Amid Covid-19 Crisis,” https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25869&LangID=E
- Tut.by, “«Если вирус попадет в СИЗО и колонии, будет трагедия». Родственники написали открытое письмо Лукашенко,” https://news.tut.by/economics/680527.html
- A Person Walking by a Wall of the Centre for Isolation of Offenders (Центр изоляции правонарушителей), (Spring96, www.spring96.org)