The Chișinău District Court has decided to reduce the nine-year prison sentence of Moldova’s ex-Prime Minister Vladimir Filat by 682 days. The Court announced its decision on July 30, arguing that the difficulties Filat had faced during his three years and nine months of detention in Chișinău’s Prison No. 13 had reached the established “severity threshold” and thereby violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
On July 30, 2019, the Chișinău District Court ruled that between October 23, 2015 and July 30, 2019 Vladimir Filat was being held in “inhumane and degrading conditions.” According to the court, the difficulties he faced in Chișinău’s Prison No. 13 “exceeded the inevitable level of suffering inherent in detention and reached the severity threshold, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).”
The court compensated for these damages by reducing his imprisonment by 682 days – commuting the original sentence of nine years in prison that he received after the national courts found him guilty of passive corruption and influence-peddling.
As a result, the ex-Prime Minister’s remaining term of detention of five years and two months was reduced by one year and ten months.
Detention conditions of the ex-Prime Minister
In the complaint filed to the court on April 26, 2019, Filat’s lawyers described in detail the conditions under which the ex-Prime Minister is held in Chișinău’s Prison No. 13.
According to the lawyers Filat was escorted from the National Anticorruption Center detention center to Prison No. 13 on October 23, 2015 – one week after his arrest. Until November 3, 2015, Filat was supposedly kept in a cell previously meant for visits, and thus not adapted to the conditions of pre-trial detention.
He was later transferred to a 8.2 square meters cell, intended for holding two detainees, in which, in fact, three detainees were placed. After three days, following repeated requests of Filat’s lawyer, the third person was moved out.
“Besides the fact that, being a non-smoker, ***** had to share a cell with heavy smokers, there was no adequate ventilation, the cell itself was unsanitary, with traces of dampness on the walls. The table and the place where the food was served were close to the sanitary group, contrary to hygiene rules.
Due to the inadequate quality of the food offered, Mr. ***** was forced to feed exclusively on food delivered through packages brought by relatives. At the request of relatives and lawyers to submit food for Mr. *****, a weekly package was accepted.
In cell No. 127 there were insects, transmitters of parasites and infectious diseases, presenting a true risk of infection. Moreover, there was an unpleasant, heavy, pungent odor in the cell, which produced a feeling of constant discomfort and continuous headaches.
In addition to the inhumane conditions in which he had to stay almost all day, except for a walk in the prison court, which lasted only one hour a day, he was intimidated by other inmates from the institution, a fact which was tolerated by the administration of the Prison No. 13.
In particular, the other prisoners, when going to the shower, used intimidation with derogatory and humiliating statements, alluding to the fact that ***** held the position of Prime Minister and deputy in the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova.
During that period, Mr. ***** received multiple letters from other prisoners, which contained threats of physical assault. Under these conditions, feeling fear for his life and security, he requested a notary to draw up a will,” the reasoned conclusion states, referring to the lawyers’ complaint.
Lawyers have also mentioned that the ex-Prime Minister offered to carry-out some repair works to the cell, at his own expense.
After a month of detention in Prison No. 13, Vladimir Filat was transferred to a third cell. According to the lawyers, the ex-Prime Minister was transferred to the basement of the prison on the grounds of a power outage, and kept in a cell very much similar to a disciplinary one, where the lawyers were denied access. In their complaint, the lawyers said that the cell was in the same unit of the prison in which the offenders investigated for violent crimes were placed.
“The multiple transfers, periods of isolation and systematic corporal searches of Mr. ***** under the pretext of security measures, in particular as ‘detained under special supervision,’ as well as the other cumulative conditions of detention (dirty and sordid cell, insufficient light for reading or writing) represent conditions incompatible with respect for human dignity and constitute humiliating treatment or situations that would exceed the inevitable level of suffering inherent in detention.
The prison administration’s conduct towards subject ***** to inhumane and degrading treatment during the pre-trial period, the multiple transfers to different cells and under different pretexts had, essentially, a single purpose, and [sic] namely to humiliate ***** and to cause him a state of anxiety, stress and moral destabilization during the examination of his case by the courts. Considering the inhumane and degrading treatment to which ***** was constantly subjected within the Prison No. 13, on November 30, 2015, he went on hunger strike, in protest against the actions taken by the administration of the prison,” the conclusion of the Chișinău Court on July 30, 2019 further specifies.
According to the court’s statement, Filat was transferred to yet another cell while on hunger strike, which was also in a “deplorable, dirty state, with a high level of humidity. Spots of mold could be observed on the walls of the cell, and there was insufficient light for reading or writing.”
The lawyers’ arguments
When filing complaints on the conditions of detention, the lawyers also used the Ombudsman’s reports, which obliged the prison administration to take urgent measures to improve the conditions or to stop its activity.
On February 27, 2016, the ex-Prime Minister was transferred to another cell. This time, he claimed to have been placed in a cell with a convict diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and post-tuberculosis sequelae, who was being investigated for sexual offenses (pedophilia).
The lawyers declared that they had requested a transfer for the defendant, but that they did not receive any answer from the Department of Penitentiary Institutions. They then went to the Chișinău Prosecutor’s Office, where they asked them to investigate the conditions of detention and to verify the execution of the Chișinău Court’s decision.
The prison administration was forced to allow Vladimir Filat to see a doctor at the Republican Clinical Hospital. However, according to Filat’s lawyers, Prison No. 13 told Filat that the institution does not have additional human resources for escorting and ensuring security during his transportation, nor specialized means of transport to take him to the hospital.
In September 2016, Vladimir Filat was transferred to the cell where he had been held during his hunger strike that began in November 2015. “The conditions in this cell were still disastrous and did not meet the minimum conditions for the detaining of prisoners. The cell was unhealthy, with a moldy odor, lacking artificial ventilation and no fresh air.
The artificial light was not sufficient for writing and reading, and the sanitary facility was not separate, so its use was in the presence of other inmates. During the entire period of preventive arrest, Mr. ***** was deprived of short and long-term meetings, so the first meeting with his parents was at the Buiucani District Court, because the prison administration refused to ensure the right to the meeting.
Also, the right to phone calls was restricted or even denied countless times by the administration of Prison No. 13, who purposefully aimed at the isolation of Mr. ***** from relatives and other family members,” the Chișinău Court said in its decision.
In court, the representative of Chișinău’s Prison No. 13 requested a rejection of the complaint regarding the reduction of the detention term on the grounds of the inhumane and degrading conditions in which Filat was held, claiming it was unfounded. According to the court document, the representative claimed that the conditions of detention“correspond to the minimum required by the conditions of criminal prosecution isolators.”
How the Court argued its final decision
Judge Constantin Damaschin adopted a decision acknowledging the violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states that “no one may be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The decision was based on the reports of national and international organizations regarding the state of the Prison No. 13, such as the December 13, 2018 report from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the 2017 report from the Council for the Prevention of Torture. The latter found that “most of the disciplinary isolators visited, including the Prison No. 13 from Chișinău, are in a deplorable state and could be qualified as inhumane and degrading conditions.”
Due to the conditions of detention Vladimir Filat was held in at Chișinău’s Prison No. 13 from October 23, 2015 to November 11, 2016, the Chișinău District Court reduced his sentence by 385 days.
For the conditions he was kept in during his period of detention as a convict at Prison No. 13 between November 12, 2016 and July 30, 2019, his sentence was reduced by an additional 297 days, calculated on the basis of a three day reduction for every ten days of detention.
Thus, his original sentence of nine years in prison (handed down by the Buiucani Court in Chișinău on June 27, 2016), was reduced by a total of 682 days.
This decision was based on new amendments to Moldova’s Criminal Procedure Code, which entered into force as of January 1, 2019. The amendments allow for persons detained for at least ten days in inhuman or degrading conditions to request a reduction of their penalty or monetary damages.
The mechanism was introduced after the European Court of Human Rights requested that Moldova establish a remedy against violations of the European Convention on Human Rights at the national level, as a result of repeated statements in their decisions that persons being held in Chișinău’s Prison No. 13 were subject to inhumane and degrading conditions.
Moldova’s national courts sentenced Vladimir Filat to nine years in prison, being found guilty of passive corruption and influence peddling. A second criminal case against Filat is also pending at the Chișinău Court, in which, the ex-Prime Minister is accused of large-scale money laundering. Filat is pleading innocent.