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ECHR upholds complaint by ex inmate of degrading treatment at Nicosia prisons

By Evie Andreou

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday upheld the complaint brought against Cyprus by a Polish former inmate at the central prisons for degrading treatment.

The case concerned the complaint of Robert Tadeusz Danilczuk, 53, a Polish national currently detained in Czarne Prison in Poland, of inadequate conditions of detention at the Nicosia Central Prisons.

In January 2011 Danilczuk was convicted of a number of offences in Cyprus, including burglary, theft, road traffic offences and unlawful residence. He was given sentences ranging from six months to two years’ imprisonment to run concurrently.

He spent the entire period of his detention from September 2010, when he was placed in on remand, to May 2012, when he was released under a presidential decree, in three different blocks at the prison.

Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Danilczuk complained of “overcrowding, lack of adequate light, cold cells and poor hygiene”. In connection to the latter, the ECHR ruling said, “he complained in particular of difficulties in accessing the toilets (there had been no toilets in the cells) and that when the cells were locked, he had been forced to urinate in a bottle and defecate in a waste bag”.

The Court rejected the Cypriot government’s arguments that the applicant’s description of the conditions of his detention was unfounded, basing its decision also on the 2014 report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and that of the Ombudsman of September 2011.

The Court said that the applicant’s period of detention at the Nicosia Central Prisons –  September 14, 2010 to May 18, 2012 – falls between the CPT’s visits in 2008 and 2013.

“The findings of the CPT therefore in its 2012 and 2014 reports provide a reliable basis for the assessment of the conditions in which he was imprisoned,” it said.

Both the CPT and the Ombudsman, it said, raised concerns in their respective reports about, inter alia, the general problem of overcrowding and access to the toilets at night in these prisons.

As far as hygiene conditions were concerned, the Court said that “throughout the applicant’s detention in the three different blocks, he was deprived of access to toilets when the cells were locked, forcing him to relieve his sanitary needs in a bottle and waste bag”. Although the Cypriot government disputed this, it said, the CPT’s and the Ombudsman’s reports that cover the relevant period lend credence to the applicant’s allegations.

“In view of the above, the Court finds that the conditions of the applicant’s detention subjected him to hardship going beyond the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and thus amounted to degrading treatment prohibited by Article 3 of the Convention,” the ruling said.

Danilczuk did not submit a claim for just satisfaction.

In its report on its delegation’s 2013 visit, the CPT made claims of abuse, physical violence towards detainees, and improper use of tear gas at Menoyia. The report also mentioned a series of allegations of physical abuse by police officers, mostly from foreign detainees who reported being slapped, punched and kicked in the head mainly by members of the immigration and aliens police (YAM) and of the Crime Investigation Department (CID).

The CPT report had also recommended that the government should come up with a “coherent strategy” to combat the overcrowding problem in the Central Prisons.

The justice ministry said the conditions in place at the time were a result of “anachronistic perceptions” which belonged to the past. It said that in the last three years, this mindset had changed and the human dignity and equal treatment of all inmates was ensured.

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