The shocking findings of the employees of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights are the result of an unannounced inspection, which was carried out in the Prison in Barczewo as part of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture 17 do 20 October last year. In a report published in January, we read, that the NMPT delegation had established, that there are acts of violence in the prison by some officers against inmates, including torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.
“Inmates are taken out of their cells, brought to unmonitored rooms, where they are then beaten, offended, intimidated, strangled, and even drowned (so-called. waterboarding). In some cases, officers put a black sack or a wet towel over the prisoners' heads. There is a strict regime and discipline in the Department, which, according to the NMPT delegation, is maintained informally. From 2021 r. no direct coercive measures were used, which is also an exception, when it comes to this type of units" – we read in the report.
The NMPT delegation also received information about the beating of a prisoner by PS officers, which resulted in his cardiac arrest. No ambulance was called, the officers resuscitated the prisoner on their own, finally bringing him back to life. But it is not everything. It follows from the material collected by representatives of the NMPT, that a few days before the visit, the tortures took place in the presence of... a paramedic.
One of the prisoners serving a sentence in the ward for the so-called. dangerous has filed an official complaint.
“The inmate pointed out, that after being brought to an unmonitored medical room, located in the ward, he was subjected to torture involving waterboarding (waterboarding), which consisted in bringing him by force to a lying position, putting a towel over his face and pouring water from a bowl over his face. The recordings showing the man being brought to the cell after torture can be seen, how he takes off his wet clothes" – we read in the report.
It's worth realizing, that person, against which the so-called. waterboarding, due to the accumulation of water in the nose and sinuses, he has a feeling, that he is suffocating, although suffocation does not ultimately occur.
ROP in November 2022 r. sent a notification to the Olsztyn-Północ District Prosecutor's Office in Olsztyn about the possibility of committing a crime of exceeding powers by officers of the security department of the Prison in Barczewo, beatings and ill-treatment of a person deprived of liberty (m.in. art. 231 k.k. in connection with Art. 158 i art. 247 k.k.).
What's interesting about it, that torture could have taken place in the Masurian facility, is also evidenced by information collected during visits to other penitentiary units. One of the inmates described it in detail, what happened to him in June 2022 r., when he was serving his sentence in Barczewo: „(…) he was first pushed against the wall and placed facing it, his hands were pulled back, and then two officers dragged him by the legs, As a result, he fell to the ground. He was dragged along the ground, then his hands were twisted behind his back, legs were held up (was lying on his stomach), and one officer put his knee on his neck and beat him on the head with his hand. The officers then poured water into a black garbage bag, they lifted his head up and put a sack over it, then they started choking the man, As a result, he lost consciousness. After he regained consciousness, the officers laid his head on its side and began to pour water on it.. In this case, the Ombudsman also filed a notification to the prosecutor's office, which combined the two.
– The investigation into mental and physical abuse with particular cruelty by public officers of the Prison Service is underway. Medical documentation is analyzed and witnesses are questioned. At the moment, the proceedings are in the in rem phase, which means, that no one has been charged yet – says prosecutor Daniel Brodowski, spokesman for the District Prosecutor's Office in Olsztyn.
As we found out, the explanatory proceedings in this case were also ordered by the director general of the Prison Service.
The experts are shocked. – Information disclosed in the report, if they were confirmed, they are truly shocking. Torture may not be used against detainees. Meanwhile, we are getting information about the probable use of techniques such as waterboarding. That is, the methods used by the American special services against terrorists or people suspected of terrorism, np. al-Qaeda terrorists. This information is additionally substantiated by the monitoring record, on which you can see, that embedded, who filed the complaint, he returns from an interrogation in an unmonitored room in wet clothes – Krzysztof Kwiatkowski says, former Minister of Justice, which adds, that so far such incidents have not taken place in Polish prisons.
– Of course, there were complaints from prisoners about overcrowding in particular, the functioning of the health service or sometimes to some form of violation of bodily integrity by PS officers, but never received any information, concerning the use of torture. This absolutely requires an investigation by the prosecutor's office, as well as internal control in SW over the correct functioning of ZK in Barczewo – adds Senator Kwiatkowski.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights also intervened in this matter, who asked the prosecutor's office and the District Inspectorate of the Prison Service to conduct a fair investigation.
– We do not know, whether the described events were the result of a lack of supervision on the part of the prison authorities or acquiescence. But the most important thing is this, not to sweep this case under the rug, as was the case in cases of excessive use of force by the police – says Dr. Piotr Kładoczny from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
– If there are no clear signals, that abuse of power, which is exercised on behalf of the state, not only cannot be tolerated, but it must be severely punished, it's unfortunately, but such incidents may become the rule over time. Therefore, an appropriate response from the prosecutor's office is needed first, and then court – adds the lawyer.
The prison in Barczewo is a special case, in terms of the seriousness of the breaches found. This is an unprecedented story in the entire experience of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights has a reasonable suspicion that such acts have been committed, such as waterboarding or beating prisoners by officers. Our visitors' attention was drawn almost immediately to the pervasive atmosphere of intimidation. The inmates were afraid to talk to our representatives, because they realized, that the Prison Service officers meticulously record the names of people, who talk to visitors in separate rooms, and cell numbers, which they visit. There have even been situations like this, that the prisoners asked, that employees of the ombudsman's office do not prolong their presence in the cells, they were so afraid of the consequences. Also, the number of complaints in this prison is suspiciously low. Lately, as a result of changes in the Executive Penal Code, that limited the rights of prisoners, the number of complaints addressed to the Ombudsman increased significantly in practically every unit, but in Barczewo it has even decreased. How is this possible? We suppose, that inmates are simply afraid to stand up for their rights.
In the past, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights disclosed cases of torture, sometimes tragic, but such a scale of irregularities as in Barczewo has never been seen before. Information obtained from prisoners shows a depressing picture of this facility – it is a kind of heart of darkness. In the prison environment, Barczewo is a symbol of harsh conditions, prisoners in other facilities are threatened, that if they get in trouble, then they will be transferred to Barczewo. Of course, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights does not have its own investigative powers, but we think, that the evidence of torture is very strong, so we filed a police report. I hope, that the case will be reviewed by an independent court.