Nasha Niva paid attention to announcements that appeared in the state media about the opening of a store that would sell items produced in penal colonies [a type of prison in Belarus and some other post-Soviet countries— ed.], including by political prisoners.
«If you come here, you are a connoisseur of quality and comfort,» the store’s website says.
The store is planned to open on April 20. The domain and the store are owned by the Yedinichka state-owned enterprise, which sells goods produced in prisons. The store promises very low prices, but in fact the goods there cost as much as the ones from non-prison manufacturers. For example, a pine bench like this one is on sale for 423 BYN (~$143).
The bench Banc coffre for $143 / Nasha Niva
It was made in the penal colony No. 20 located in the Mazyr district. At least five political prisoners are currently held there.
The products of the penal colony No. 20 are also exported to Russia under the brand of the Volshebnaya sosna factory. Moreover, there is no mention on the company’s website that the furniture is made by inmates. In Russia, such a bench costs from 450 to 600 BYN (~$152-203).
Other goods created by prisoners are also exported to Russia, and some of them are even cheaper. For example, this shelving got cheaper when it «moved» to Moscow. And again, there is no information on the website that the furniture was made by inmates. The penal colony is called «state enterprise from Belarus» for some reason.
Screenshots from the website that sells Belarusian furniture to Russia and the website eDIN / Nasha Niva
A set of men’s underwear produced in the penal colony No. 4 in Homel (at least 85 political prisoners are held there now) costs even more than a similar model made in Uzbekistan.
Screenshots from the website eDIN and one of the websites that sells clothes / Nasha Niva
And boots made in the penal colony No. 17, which currently holds at least 74 political prisoners, cost the same as the boots made by ordinary firms.
Screenshots from the website eDIN and one of the websites that sells boots for tourism and active leisure / Nasha Niva
At the same time, people working in the colonies make extremely little money, we can actually say that they are not paid anything. For example, one of the former inmates of the penal colony No. 17 sent Nasha Niva his salary report:
his average monthly salary was about 2 BYN (~$0.6).
Former political prisoner Natallia Hersche told that she was paid 6.66 BYN (~$2.2) for one of the months.
Some other former inmates earned more, but didn’t get over the mark of 30 BYN (~$10) for a 24-day work month. In other words, a person receives literally nothing for work, often with only one day off, not taking into account mandatory household services.
The issue of working conditions in prisons has been raised many times in the media. For example, former political prisoner Daria Chultsova told the publication Mediazona about working conditions in the sewing shop. According to her, it is cold in winter and stuffy in summer, it is difficult to breathe in the shop because of dust from poor-quality fabrics during sewing. The prisoners work six hours six days a week in the sewing production. Twice a month, the prisoners usually have to work on Sundays as well. According to the publication, inmates earn 15-20 BYN (~$5-7) per month for such work and receive additional hours unpaid if they don’t work out the required norm.
It is already known that the creation of unbearable conditions for political prisoners by the administration and employees of penal colonies in Belarus has become a system: inmates don’t receive letters even from their close relatives, they are constantly reported on «for malicious violations», sent to isolation cells and even prohibited to attend church. Even after their release, political prisoners are not left alone: Lukashenka’s enforcers come to their homes to conduct searches and check their phones.
It is even easier to put pressure on those who are in captivity, because the rights of prisoners are out of the question in the current circumstances. Inmates can’t refuse to perform almost unpaid work. The described schemes for the use of prisoner labour, which looks more like slavery, only confirm that the illegitimate regime benefits from imprisoning the undesirable ones not only to suppress dissent, but also to make a profit at their expense.