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Response of the Ministry of Justice regarding a number of statements of members of the monitoring group at penitentiary institutions

31/07/2018

During a press conference, members of the Group of Public Monitors Implementing Supervision over the Criminal-Executive Institutions and Bodies of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia raised a number of issues, and in regard to those issues, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia finds it appropriate to give the following clarifications:

1.     "No penitentiary institution is adjusted for persons with disabilities, and the sanitary facilities of penitentiary institutions are a real disaster," Robert Revazyan, lawyer of the Group of Public Monitors Implementing Supervision over the Criminal-Executive Institutions and Bodies of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, emphasized.

In regard to this issue, we have informed many times that the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia has undertaken the process of creating appropriate and accessible conditions complying with the needs of persons in custody and persons with movement restrictions; in particular, through the joint efforts of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia and the Republican Centre for Humanitarian Aid SNCO of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Republic of Armenia, necessary medical equipments have been provided to convicts and detained persons with disabilities. Eleven penitentiary institutions of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia have been provided with necessary medical equipments for primary healthcare. Where appropriate, places adapted for persons with disabilities will be separated at penitentiary institutions.

As regards the issue of sanitary facilities, we inform that partial repair works have always been carried out in the cells of "Nubarashen" Penitentiary Institution of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia and other penitentiary institutions, and the capital construction works for the external and internal sewerage systems causing humidity were launched on 29 May 2018 and are scheduled to be completed in September of this year.

Besides, activities for drawing up of the design and budgetary documents on capital construction works for the internal sewerage system, external and internal water supply network, sanitary facilities, bathrooms, canteen, internal and external electricity system and repair of the electric substation of "Nubarashen" Penitentiary Institution of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia ended on 25 June 2018, and adjustments of sanitary facilities for persons with locomotor problems were included in those activities as well.

2.     "We have not seen any practical differences yet, besides statements," says Robert Revazyan, lawyer of the Group of Public Monitors Implementing Supervision over the Criminal-Executive Institutions and Bodies of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, touching upon the activities that are being carried out at penitentiary institutions after the Velvet Revolution.

Numerous changes have always been made and are currently being made to improve the activities being carried out at the penitentiary institutions of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia. Particularly, in recent months, extensive work has been carried out for reinterpretation of the activities of the system of criminal punishment, development of new directions for the policy on the penitentiary sector, modernisation of the legislation regulating the activities of the penitentiary system and proper enforcement of the legislation. The following activities have particularly been carried out:

1.1.   In 2018, the Government of the Republic of Armenia adopted Decision No 204-N "On establishing the "Penitentiary Medical Centre" State Non-Commercial Organisation", according to which healthcare service is separated and an independent professional institution of the Penitentiary Service is being established.

1.2.   Penitentiary institutions have been provided with necessary medical equipment for primary healthcare; training courses for medical staff are being held.

1.3.   The draft Law of the Republic of Armenia "On making an amendment to the Penitentiary Code of the Republic of Armenia" has been developed by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, and on 12 July 2018, it was fully adopted by the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia by the second reading and completely; according to the draft Law, the right to at least six short visits and two long visits during the year shall be granted to persons convicted to imprisonment for a certain period or to life imprisonment for a particularly grave crime.

1.4.   For the purpose of raising the level of efficiency of the institute for conditional early release from punishment, the package of draft Laws of the Republic of Armenia "On making amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia", "On making amendments and a supplement to the Penitentiary Code of the Republic of Armenia", "On making amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Armenia" and "On making amendments and a supplement to the Law of the Republic of Armenia "On probation"" has been developed by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, and on 23 May 2018, the package of draft Laws were adopted by the second reading and completely by the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.

For the purpose of ensuring fulfilment of the requirements provided for by the above-mentioned legislative package, cases of 21 convicts are already being examined in the proceedings of the Probation Service of the Ministry of Justice of Republic of Armenia, and the right to release on parole of those convicts shall arise starting from 1 September 2018.

1.5.   Based on Law of the Republic of Armenia HO-149-N "On amnesty" having entered into force on 9 April 2018, secondary legislation acts have been developed, and practical application of the new system of the institute of amnesty has been ensured. Following adoption of the Law, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia has received 147 petitions, 82 of which have already been forwarded to the Government of the Republic of Armenia"

1.6.  Draft Law of the Republic of Armenia "On making an amendment to the Penitentiary Code of the Republic of Armenia" has been developed by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, and on 17 July 2018, it was submitted to the Staff of the Government of the Republic of Armenia; the draft Law has established specific grounds for holding outgoing court sessions at closed and semi-closed penitentiary institutions and the guarantees for ensuring the right to a fair trial.

1.7.   A lot of changes have been made to the staff. Activities for training the staff are being carried out.

3.     "After the Velvet Revolution, the Ministry of Justice maintains the same position and similarly obstructs the activities of the Group".

First of all, it is not clear how the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia can obstruct the activities of a group of public monitors created by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia and designed to assist the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia.

And if this refers to access to penitentiary institutions, we inform that the right to unrestricted entry into and exit from a penitentiary institution by the Group of Public Monitors is identified with the right to having unrestricted visits.

In regard to the issue, it has been clarified several times that the Penitentiary Code of the Republic of Armenia grants the Group of Public Monitors only the right to unrestricted entry into and exit from the institution executing a sentence and that that right is not fully identified with the right to grant visits.

Besides, according to paragraph 9 of Article 15 of the Law of the Republic of Armenia “On the custody of arrested and detained persons”: “Where the interests of the investigation so require, the visits of arrested or detained persons with their legal representatives, close relatives, mass media representatives and other persons, except for the cases provided for by law, may be prohibited upon the decision of the body conducting criminal proceedings, informing the administration of the arrest or detention facility thereof in writing".

The above-mentioned Article shows that the body conducting criminal proceedings is entitled to prohibit, if the interests of the investigation so require, the visit of a member of the Group of Public Monitors with a detained or arrested person.

Thus, the prohibition on the visit of persons arrested or detained upon the decision of the body conducting criminal proceedings also extends to the Group of Public Monitors, and it is not legitimate that the right to unrestricted entry into and exit from the penitentiary institutions of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia implies the right of having a visit with arrested or detained persons.

At the same time, the draft Laws of the Republic of Armenia "On making supplements to the Penitentiary Code of the Republic of Armenia" and "On making supplements to the Law of the Republic of Armenia "On the custody of arrested and detained persons"" have been jointly developed with the Office of the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia; the draft Laws also regulate the relations pertaining to visiting detained persons. The legislative package is posted on e-draft.am, but the Group of Public Monitors has not received any recommendations.

 

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