Cancer-affected defendant doomed to die behind bars

“You cannot be insured against prison”, reads the folk’s saying. It does make sense especially if you were lucky to be born in Belarus and try to make business here. In May 2006, Mikalaj Tolkac, the then deputy director of the Bellegpramprajekt, was taken into a pre-trial custody on Valadarski Street in Minsk.

He was charged with attempting to receive a huge bribe. However, the defendant did not appear in court. 10 days before the trial, he had been admitted to a prison hospital.

Diagnosis was fatal: cancer. The European Radio for Belarus talked to Mikalaj Tolkac’s wife and his lawyer about the situation.

“He is in a condition when he has pains everywhere. When you have a Grade-4 cancer pains, you have the loss of consciousness and all the rest…

I have even noticed that by his letters. Previously, he used to write “spreadsheets” to me. Now he drops three lines just to let me know that he is still alive…, “Hanna Tolkac, the wife, told our radio.

“I keep track of all the medical records. On February 13, his condition was described as grave. On February 14 they wrote that his condition was steadily deteriorating. Afterward, they wrote: an extremely grave condition. There is not much to say…,” said his lawyer.

It has been two weeks now for the wife and the lawyer begging the court authorities to release Mikalaj Tolkac from custody and let him die in freedom.

But, even the most of the convincing medical statements do not help get understanding. Hanna, the wife of Mikalaj continues:

“Those who have once come across the problem of cancer understand me as a human being… But, the rest are indifferent…

Over the past two weeks, the only thing I am doing is that I have been wandering around the closed circle. This is the impression I am getting.”

Cancer at the last fatal stages is a an inarguable “permit” for the release from jail almost everywhere, Belarus inclusive, but only of a criminal has been sentenced and serving his term.

A prisoner can be released from jail due to a grave sickness or handicap condition, under the Article 186 of the Criminal Procedural Code of the Republic of Belarus. But, Mikalai Tolkac was admitted to a prison hospital before the trial.

“There is a list of diseases which justify the release of prisoners, regardless of whether it was a suspended sentence or a pre-scheduled release. They must be released in principle.

But, this provision deals with those sentenced only. In this case, we cannot wait for his trial. This is simply not to happen,” Mikalaj’s lawyer told the European Radio for Belarus.

Not only have the judges failed to display understanding to Mikalaj and his relatives. I asked the chief medical officer of the Homel Regional Clinic for Cancer Treatment, Taccjana Pryhozaja, whether it was ethical to keep holding a defendant who does not even hope to survive the trial.

He answer was:

“If we do not look at it from the medical point of view, this man has been punished by God. The God has punished him with an incurable disease and with a painful death…

This punishment is stronger that the punishment with prison. By and large, they do not try twice for the same crime. The lesser crime is absorbed by a bigger one. You can agree that prison is a lesser crime than death”.

But, the wife and lawyer of Mikalaj Tolkac are still counting for the mercy of judges. On February 22 they managed to get an appointment at the Supreme Court of Belarus, the last chance that could pull the inmate from the prison hospital.

“The Supreme Court could demand the case to check the legitimacy of all the rulings in this case.

I have already filed a complaint against the ruling of the city court. The Supreme Court said they would demand the case urgently. But, since there is a certain procedure, it means the loss of time…,” the lawyer said.

No judge has the right de jure to release Mikalaj Tolkac from prison in order to die at home. The law is the law.

But, what is the criminal law system worth like, if it cannot make a compromise with the human laws, if it exists on its own, not understanding the people it actually depends on?

Photo by