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Brutality of Prison Service officers. HFHR intervenes in case of assaulted inmate

Officers of the Prison Service have sent an anonymous letter the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, asking the HFHR to intervene in a case of violent behaviour of a fellow officer employed in a prison.

Inmate beaten in prison medical facility

A CCTV recording enclosed to the letter shows the officer punching an inmate. The incident occurred in the prison’s medical facility while the victim, who had already been sedated, was laying on a couch with his arms and legs restrained.

According to the anonymous officers, they informed the prison governor and head of security operations of the violent behaviour of their colleague. Having watched the recording, both superiors allegedly said they did not see any illegal conduct and assessed the violent officer’s conduct as “an unconventional way of securing the shackles”.

HFHR intervenes

On 3 August 2017, the HFHR officially asked a Regional Director of Prison Service to take action in the above case, referring to Article 3 of the ECHR, Article 40 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland (prohibition of torture) and provisions of the Criminal Enforcement Code. The Foundation emphasised that state authorities must respect the prohibition of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as well as comply with the obligation to enforce a penalty in a way that is humanitarian and respects the human dignity of convicted persons. The Foundation also reminded that Article 3 of the Convention has repeatedly been considered a basic value of a democratic society in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. Article 3 establishes an absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of maltreatment, irrespectively of circumstances and a victim’s own behaviour.

“This case is exceptional as it was prison officers themselves who asked us to step in. This is a rare instance where a code of silence among officers has been broken”, assesses Piotr Kubaszewski, Coordinator of the Legal Intervention Programme. Dr Piotr Kładoczny, HFHR Secretary of the Board, further notes that the Prison Service is legally obliged to ensure proper treatment of inmates. “The Prison Service is legally obliged to ensure that the rights of persons convicted to imprisonment or detained on remand are adequately protected, which pertains in particular to their living conditions and respect for dignity”, Dr Kładoczny adds.

Brutality of uniformed services in Poland

A qualitative analysis of cases brought against Poland shows that Poland is rarely found guilty of violations of Convention Article 3. However, the Foundation constantly deals with cases involving the unlawful use of violence by officers of uniformed services, including the Prison Service. For instance, in 2011, the HFHR submitted an intervention letter to a prison governor in the case of an inmate who was allegedly beaten by guards and kept in solitary confinement for 16 days. Furthermore, the ECtHR found a violation of Article 3 in a case of Iwańczuk v. Poland (application no. 25196/94, judgment of 15 November 2001), which involved brutality of Prison Service staff.

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