Download Judgment: English
Country: Moldova
Year: 2007
Court: The European Court of Human Rights
Health Topics: Prisons
Human Rights: Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Right to due process/fair trial, Right to privacy

The applicant was a Moldova national who worked for an NGO helping people deprived of liberty. He was convicted with serious fraud offenses and was diagnosed with mosaic schizophrenia at the time. The applicant stated that the conditions of his detention were inhuman in that he was kept in small cells lacking proper ventilation and access to day light, with a risk for transmission of infectious diseases, with a very poor quality and quantity of food served to detainees, and with parasitic insects present.  The applicant claims that he wasn’t given a response despite his claims to the relevant authorities regarding the conditions. The applicant began a hunger-strike on 1 August 2001 because of the rights violation. Because no prosecutor came to discuss with on the alleged violations in two weeks, he cut his wrists and set fire on him self on 14 August 2001 for which he was treated and force-fed 2 times. On the 13th and 14th of September 2001, the applicant was diagnosed and with  “right-sided inter-muscular inguinal hernia”. [Para.15] He had refused treatment and then was transferred to a dark, cold and damp solitary confinement cell for few days. Days after this incident, the applicant was examined by the prison psychiatrist who had found that the applicant was of sound mind and who later explained to court that he had been pressured but refused to sign an act declaring the applicant as mentally ill. From August – September 2003 the applicant underwent in-patient treatment after being diagnosed with mosaic psychopathy. On 24 August  2001, a doctor found that the applicant’s health was deteriorating and ordered force-feeding; the applicant was force-fed for 7 times and ended his hunger-strike on 4 October 2001. [Para.17]

In October 2001 the applicant lodged a claim that he was subjected to humiliation and pain in the process g force-fed even when he wasn’t physically resisting it. “The prison staff forced him to open his mouth by pulling his hair, gripping his neck and stepping on his feet until he could no longer bear the pain and opened his mouth. His mouth was then fixed in an open position by means of a metal mouth-widener. His tongue was pulled out of his mouth with a pair of metal tongs which he claims left it numb and bleeding each time. A hard tube was inserted as far as his stomach through which liquidized food passed into his stomach provoking, on some occasions, sharp pain. When the metal holder was removed from his mouth, he bled, he could not feel his tongue and was unable to speak. The instruments used for his force-feeding were not fitted with single-use, soft protection layers to prevent pain and infection”. [Para.19]

The applicant’s claim was rejected on 7 November 2002 as unfounded by the district court which decided that the forced feeding was lawful as refusing to eat was a violation of detention rules; the Regional court upheld the decision; the Supreme court remanded the case on 19 April 2003. On 9 October 2003, the provision under the domestic law that provided for force-feeding of detainees on hunger-strike was amended to prohibit force-feeding. The district court found that the law was not contrary to human right standards as it aimed at protecting the health and the lives of detainees. The applicant’s force-feeding was medically required and the physical measures were necessary to that effect; the court found no inhuman and degrading treatment. The judgement was appealed to the court of appeals, which on 26 April 2005, upheld the decision of the district court.

The applicant then appealed to the Supreme Court claiming that his health had been damaged due to the force-feeding as his tooth broke and he developed abdominal infection. He mentioned his inability to pay. The court, however, refused to examine his case due to his failure to pay the court fees. The applicant’s request for more regular visits with his family and better conditions of visiting was also refused by the Supreme court on the ground that it had not been requested at the district court.

The applicant complained to the European Court of Human Rights (the ECHR) on grounds of violation of Articles 3, 6(1), 8 and 10  of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) due to the inhuman conditions of his detention and him being forced-fed, domestic court’s failure to examine his complaint because he couldn’t pay court fees, unnecessary restrictions on his right to meet his family in private, violation of respect to his right of correspondence and denial of access to the internal regulations of prison.

The ECHR held that the conditions under which the applicant was detained were inhuman due to the extreme overcrowding and the unsanitary conditions in the detention center, as well as the low quantity and quality of food, and his  prolonged detention.  The ECHR thus found that Article 3 of the Convention had been violated.

Regarding the claims on force-feeding, the ECHR concluded that the government hadn't shown with medical evidences that the dangers to the applicant's health warranted the authorities' act. It held that the force-feeding by itself raised an issue under Article 3 of the Convention. Because hunger strikes were violations of prison order, the ECHR had tended to accept the applicant's argument that his force-feeding was being used as a means of discouraging his opposition. The ECHR held that a less-intrusive means could have been used in the applicant's case, such as the intra-venous drips he had requested before he was force-fed. The ECHR further found the manner the forced-feeding was done to be painful and humiliating, and this was true even if it hadn't caused him  the abdominal infection and the broken tooth. This situation amounted to torture under Article 3.

The ECHR held that the failure of domestic courts to review his case amounted to denial of access to tribunal and thus to a violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention. Because some of the applicant's correspondence had been opened by the prison administration without court order, the ECHR found a violation of Article 8 of the Convention. The ECHR also found the authorities' interference in the right of the applicant to meet his relatives in private not to fall under the exceptions provided under Article 8 which, therefore, is violated.

The ECHR awarded the applicant non-pecuniary damage for the damage he had suffered due to the violations.

"The Court reiterates that a measure which is of therapeutic necessity from the point of view of established principles of medicine cannot in principle be regarded as inhuman and degrading. The same can be said about force-feeding that is aimed at saving the life of a particular detainee who consciously refuses to take food. The Convention organs must nevertheless satisfy themselves that the medical necessity has been convincingly shown to exist. Furthermore, the Court must ascertain that the procedural guarantees for the decision to force-feed are complied with. Moreover, the manner in which the applicant is subjected to force-feeding during the hunger-strike must not trespass the threshold of the minimum level of severity envisaged by the Court's case law under Article 3 of the Convention". [Para. 77]

"The Court notes that the applicant went on hunger-strike on many occasions, including during the second part of 1995, when he had been on hunger-strike at least once a month. It was not submitted that on any of the previous hunger-strikes he had been force-fed, nor that his life and health had been in danger. Moreover, the two 10-day isolation ward periods applied to him on 24 November and 4 December 1995 (when he was also detained in prison no. 3) reflect the administration's position that not only was the applicant's life not in danger as a result of his hunger-strike but that he had to be held in harsher than normal conditions for a total of 20 days as a sanction." [Para. 78]