Seven years ago, after being convicted, a young man in Republic of Moldova arrived in the penitentiary, where he had to serve a short sentence. In 2020, after a series of alleged conflicts with the administration of the penitentiary and other detainees, he decided to break ties with the underworld leaders, only that it didn’t turn out to be easy. Eventually the detainee’s family turned to a lawyer in order for him to prove the abuse he suffered in the penitentiary and defend him. The lawyer said that in the process of representing his client, he himself also was subjected to intimidation.

With the lawyer’s assistance, the detainee provided HomoDiversus NGO with several video recordings made on a mobile phone. In the videos he talks about the deplorable conditions in the penitentiary and some fraudulent schemes, which would be managed by the detainees, with the obvious consent of the penitentiary employees. For security reasons, the young man as well as his lawyer asked to be granted anonymity. The lawyer claims that after his client tried to claim his rights, by filing a complaint against a penitentiary employee, he become the subject of torture.  The latter allegedly violated his right to confidential meetings with the lawyer, stipulated by law.

The lawyer told us that “in the detainee’s requests, addressed to law enforcement institutions, he mentioned that the penitentiary is not a correctional institution, but a criminal school, which teaches you to commit new crimes.”

In the videos provided to HomoDiversus NGO, the detainee states that he ended in penitentiary to correct himself and serve his sentence, established by the conviction. According to him, he would not commit new illegal acts (for which he has already been convicted for and is serving his sentence) if the administration of the penitentiary from the beginning wouldn’t have given him the possibility to own a mobile phone, and the underworld leaders did not have the opportunity to manipulate the rest of the convicts in the penitentiary, including himself. He also mentioned that people who get imprisoned for the first time should not be placed in cells with detainees, who serve a series of sentences there, because the latter can easily manipulate them. Through his videos made on the phone, the convict mentioned that the “inconvenient” to both the administration and underworld leaders’ detainees are isolated and forced to keep quiet about the illegalities they know about. In the penitentiary, the convicts have a “common fund”, mobile phones, connection to internet and other prohibited objects”. The convict states that the administration of the penitentiary knows about these things, but it’s not in their interest to speak about it. He explained that “this is because the state cannot provide all the necessary conditions for the maintenance of the convicts, and the latter take advantage of this.”

The client allegedly told the lawyer that the conflict with the underworld cartels in the penitentiary started because he tried to withdraw from their area of ​​influence and stop committing illegal acts. Immediately he had to face the consequences of this decision.  Without the convict knowing, the penitentiary administration allegedly organized a meeting with the underworld leaders from another unit, who are serving their sentences in the same institution, so that they “teach him a lesson of respect” in the penitentiary courtyard. (According to the rules, detainees of one unit do not mingle with detainees of another unit during the outside walks.)

The client allegedly told the lawyer that other detainees had beaten him. He was then isolated, unable to communicate with other convicts. The detainee did not have access to the phone, and all his letters to the law enforcement agencies did not reach their destination. The young man was allegedly placed in a cell in the basement “where it was dark, the humidity was high and where rats were running around.” “I caught one in the bucket I used to wash the floors, and showed it during the morning check, to prove it to the administration, who did not take my word for it when I told them there were rats there. I was bitten by this rat, but wasn’t even given medical assistance. There were so many bars around my window, that I had the feeling I was in a dog cage “, the detainee would have confessed to his lawyer.

The first meeting of the lawyer and the detainee took place in August 2020. The penitentiary administration did not allow them to have a face-to-face meeting, motivating the refusal with the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic but a skype meeting could be arranged instead. According to the layer, during their online conversation, one of the penitentiary employees remained with the convict, even though he was asked to leave. It was insisted that this employee ensures the confidentiality between the lawyer and the detainee.  He was also asked what was his name, in order for a complaint to be filed, which he was warned about. He was informed that he had violated the convict’s right to have a confidential conversation with his lawyer. “You will get to know my name behind the penitentiary gate.” – allegedly replied the penitentiary employee. According to the lawyer, shortly after that, a complaint was filed with the penitentiary administration regarding the incident. Allegedly, from this moment on, the torture of his client began.

Hanged off the bed’s metal bar, with his hands handcuffed behind his back

According to the lawyer, the convict stated that the employee, against whom the complaint was filed, came with another colleague of his and put pressure on him to submit a written statement, according to which his right to confidentiality with the lawyer was not breached. According to the lawyer, “the young man refused, then they started insulting him and calling him uncensored words. In the emotional state he was in, the convict cut his veins, causing himself a series of cuts. He states that it was another detainee who called for help from the prison staff, which came only half an hour later together with the doctor, who bandaged his arm. The convict was then moved in carcer. (Carcer – a small, dark room used in prisons for the temporary placement of a punished person). There he was handcuffed, with his hands behind his back. When the prison staff returned to the carcer, they saw that the detainee’s handcuffed hands were in front of him. While he was alone, he turned his hands until he put them in front of him to make himself more comfortable. The prison staff handcuffed him again with his hands to his back and hung him off the bed’s metal bar. He remained in that position for about 30 minutes, barely touching the floor with his toes. The cut wounds on his arm began to bleed. According to the penitentiary doctor’s examination, there was a circulation hyperemia detected in the region of both hands’ joints (the handcuffs left some brown marks around the wrists of both hands). Such treatment negatively influenced the moral and emotional state of my client, causing not only physical pain, but also suicidal thoughts – the lawyer explained – According to the young man, he had a previous suicide attempt due to pressure from the prison staff. He took a number of pills after which he lost consciousness and did not regain it until the next day. This happened when the prison staff asked him to write the statement declaring that his right to a confidential discussion with the lawyer had not been violated”.

Initially, the young man was convicted based on a seven-year sentence (which he has already served) for scamming (cheating people by fraudulent means in order to obtain profits).

“The convict says that he is already sick and tired of all the illegalities in the penitentiary and does not want to return to the alleged criminal structures. He wants to serve his sentence peacefully, return home to his family and stop committing crimes. However, the pressure on him wouldn’t’ stop. For example, he complains that during his private meeting with his family, he was filmed by prison staff. All of his conversations with the family were recorded. Even during face-to-face meetings with me, prison staff watched us intently in order to intimidate us. The guards did not allow us to exchange documents without intervening, citing the Covid-19 pandemic.” – the lawyer explained.

“The Prosecutor ‘s visit was useless since he’s on the penitentiary’s side”

The lawyer continues the story of his client: “After the convict became a victim of torture by the penitentiary employees, he filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office for acts of torture. The prosecutor handling the convict’s complaint, for unknown reasons, lied to him, telling him that he had previously had a discussion with his lawyer and that the whole situation had been explained to him. According to the detainee, the prosecutor was not interested in investigating the torture case involving the prison staff, since all he was asked about was about an older case referring to him being assaulted by other convicts, in the courtyard of the penitentiary. Immediately after concluding the discussion with the prosecutor and leaving the courtroom, the convict saw how the latter passed the explanation paper to a prison employee. That was the moment when he understood that the prosecutor did not intend to clarify the situation, but to keep the penitentiary administration aware of all the statements he was going to make. As the prosecutor did not do his job on the complaint related to torture, the detainee decided to file a new complaint regarding this fact, repeatedly requesting to provide explanations, but already in the presence of the lawyer”.

“This time – the lawyer continued – the convict narrated to the prosecutor in great detail about the incident he had with the prison staff. Although the prosecutor mentioned about the need to perform a forensic examination, so far nothing has been done in this regard.

The convict told the prosecutor about the alleged act of torture, gave names of other detainees who allegedly witnessed the incident. However, according to the convict, the penitentiary staff would have forbidden them to speak, telling them to keep quiet “If you don’t want to have a life in the penitentiary like (the name of the convict), talking means you are going against the system”.

“Shortly after the convict’s statement, some detainees, mentioned in his hearing, were transferred to other penitentiaries. Nevertheless, since the area where the incident took place is monitored by video cameras, the prosecutor has the possibility to take possession of the evidence, which could prove that the convict was tortured by the prison staff. Respectively, video samples can easily be taken. However, the law enforcement officers were not in a hurry to do this “, the lawyer mentioned.

According to the convict, the penitentiaries in Republic of Moldova are not led by the administration, but by “gangs”, i.e. by the underworld leaders. He also says that what happens in the penitentiaries of Republic of Moldova is an outrage. If you have money, you are well positioned, and if you do not have money and do not regularly contribute a certain amount of money to the “common fund” (a mutual aid fund among convicts), you can be pressured, beaten and humiliated in every way. According to the detainee, the ones who suffer are not only the vulnerable people in prisons but also their families and the whole society, and it’s all due to this rotten system.

At the end of the story, the lawyer presented to the HomoDiversus NGO a letter from his client, in which he states that he was recently threatened by gang leaders in the penitentiary, who would have decided to assign him with the lowest possible rank among the detainees in this organized and gang led structure. The lawyer explained that regardless of the cell in which the convict finds himself, other detainees will have to treat him in the worst possible way, thus endangering his life and health. Some words in the letter were blurred out to preserve the anonymity of the detainee, who wished to make this document public.

Alexandru Zubco, head of Torture Prevention Department of the Ombudsman Office:

“It is certain that the prosecution bodies, as the case may be, shall initiate a prompt and effective investigation”

Photo with Alexandru Zubco: personal archive (Facebook).

Mr. Zubco, how do you think the vicious circle can be broken in the case of this detainee?

It is certain that the prosecution bodies, as the case may be, shall initiate a prompt and efficient investigation. This should lead to the priority examination of complaints communicated by the person in custody, the administration of evidence, etc., so that the torturers are finally identified and held accountable under criminal proceedings. It is inadmissible for such acts to take place in detention institutions.

What are the state’s obligations in such situations?

First, the state is responsible for the acts of torture perpetrated by its representatives. It has a threefold obligation, such as to initiate criminal proceedings, not to tolerate acts of torture and to effectively investigate the complaints with the adoption of a real sentence.

If torture is confirmes, how can the victim claim their rights?

The alleged victim filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, exercising one of his rights. Beyond that, the victim has the right to have their complaint resolved, to be informed about the results of the settlement; to receive copies of the case materials; whether or not he is recognized as an injured or civil party, he has the right to be consulted by a lawyer throughout the criminal proceedings; be assisted by a free lawyer (provided by the state); be accompanied by a trusted person, together with his lawyer, in all investigations, including closed hearings; to receive a court decision on the financial compensation for the damage caused; the right to protection; to be subjected to judicial extermination of his mental or physic state, etc.

The victim can submit a request to the Ombudsman Office based on 16 Sfatul Țării Street, MD-2012, Chisinau, in person or via his lawyer, attaching evidence, if appropriate, in order to involve the Ombudsman’s institution in monitoring the case.

This activity is part of the project “Reshaping the anti-torture narrative in Moldova” conducted by HomoDiversus within the framework of the project “Let All of Us Say NO to Torture in Moldova: Civil Society against Torture”. The project “Let All of Us Say NO to Torture in Moldova: Civil Society against Torture” is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Institute for Democracy in partnership with the Media Center from Transnistria and the National Institute for Women of Moldova. The contents of this activity are the sole responsibility of HomoDiversus and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union and the Institute for Democracy.