Wednesday, 23 May

An Annual Summer ‘Game’: Demanding a Bit of Air in Nubarashen Penitentiary

By Mher Yenokyan

Hetq Correspondent at Nubarashen Prison

I’ve won another award.

This time, it’s for a story I wrote in Russian for the Slavonic University in Yerevan’s “Our Pushkin” competition.

Let me now turn to another matter that needs to be raised.

Those who follow my articles from the Nubarashen Penitentiary now that there are small openings in the cell doors to pass through food or for communicating with someone on the other side.

Nubarashen is a Soviet-era penitentiary without any air conditioning. In the summer, the temperature in the cells can rise to 40 Centigrade. The air is stale. Convicts often get sick.

Those tiny openings are the only way to get some air flowing.

Those serving life sentences are housed right under the roof. On the lower floors, some twenty convicts sleep on a space not bigger than 20 square meters. Such inhumane conditions clearly violate Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It’s a not too subtle means of torture, of degrading human dignity.

Even when capital punishment was practiced in Armenia, those cell door openings were left open in the summer.

Nowadays, we have to formally lodge a protest to get those openings opened.

But our protests fall on deaf ears. Our jailers say they need permission from above.

There are a few jailers, with a conscience, who do open the small windows, but only at certain hours, so that they won’t be reported to their bosses.

But we keep protesting. So much so that finally a directive is issued benevolently from on high to open the cell door grates.

It’s like this every year. We suffer for weeks before a bit of relief is allowed.

And the openings are left open way into the fall, when the cells turn cold. We then have to ask the guards to close those damn door openings. Their response is the same – we need a directive from the warden.

Is this some warped conspiracy on the part of the penitentiary to make us suffer needlessly? Or have the warden and his assistants, sitting in their comfortable air-conditioned offices, merely forgotten about us in the sweltering cells below?

It can’t be an accidental oversight. It happens every summer. It’s a game they like to play.

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