The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday condemned Belgium for the poor conditions of detention inflicted on prisoners during the prison officers’ strike in spring 2016.
The court in Strasbourg had already condemned Belgium last year in a similar case.
The lack of physical activity, repeated breaches of rules of hygiene, lack of contact with the outside world and uncertainty as to whether their basic needs would be met, caused prisoners excessive distress, according to the court.
It further noted that the plaintiffs had no effective remedy for their complaints.
Belgium will have to pay €3,500 in compensation plus €1,500 for costs and expenses to each of the 25 detainees who appealed.
The Brussels Court of Appeal had previously rejected the prisoners’ claims, said Alexander Hamels, one of the applicants’ lawyers. The Belgian court, he explained, had considered that the Belgian State could not be held responsible for a prison strike that was beyond its control.
“My clients are pleased to see the European Court rectify the controversial ruling of the Brussels Court of Appeal,” commented Hamels. “Exceptional circumstances such as strikes or coronavirus do not constitute a licence to violate the fundamental rights of prisoners.”
The lawyer said he was hopeful that the government would reform the minimum service in prisons so that such practices could not occur in the future.