Pavel Chikov on torture in the prison system: “It’s centralised management. These are not just some kind of excesses by those on the ground”
Pavel Chikov

11 October 2021

An extract from ‘Polny Albats: Torture in the Prison System.’ Pavel Chikov heads the Agora International Human Rights Group; Vladimir Osechkin heads the Gulagu.Net project.

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

E. Albats: So, my first question for you, Vladimir Osechkin and for you, Pavel Chikov. Please tell me why this terrible cruelty is necessary? Why this violence to young men using a mop? Why rape these young men in front of a camera? Why? Vladimir Osechkin.

V. Osechkin: This is a very difficult question. To be honest, it seems to me that no normal person with a normal psyche can really explain the reason for doing such a thing, and somehow try to justify this crime against humanity. Why do they do it? Russian prisons and Russian penal colonies have inherited the vicious traditions of the Gulag.

Among the things we can do: we can keep quiet about it, we may choose not to speak about it because it is a taboo topic. But in every pre-trial detention centre, in every penal colony – and we have more than 700 of them in Russia – there is a category of so-called humiliated prisoners. It is a caste. And therefore almost the entire mass of prisoners is in a situation where, at any moment, if they say the word “no” to FSB or FSIN operatives, they can be transported to a number of torture institutions, known to almost every prisoner. Because more and more often, prisoners are talking about this, because it is a vital issue for their lives. And fateful. And if a command comes from Moscow, from Lubyanka or Zhitnaya, that one prisoner or another needs to be treated in the same way as shown in the video, to be moved to the caste of the humiliated, then there will be an extra-procedural decision, a so-called special action, operational slang as operatives of the Main Operational Directorate of the Federal Prison Service of Russia call it. This person – under the pretext of suspected tuberculosis – can be transferred from any region of the Federal District, from the Volga region, from the Central Federal District to Saratov Regional Tuberculosis Hospital 1. Ostensibly for treatment. Ostensibly for diagnostics.

As soon as that person gets out of the police van, neither employees, nor institution staff, nor officers – although frankly, I do not want to call them that – will work with him. 

But they start to work with “them”; those who immediately start to beat, torture and humiliate. Here are the so-called “activists”, “the beating brigade”; to be honest, the word “Capo” applies to them because it seems to more comprehensively reflect the essence of what is going on. And these recruited agents, these convicts sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, who are physically strong and have very powerful support from FSIN and FSB operatives, who have in fact been given some kind of indulgence, if you like, a license to torture. To rape. Here, they feel the fullness of power over any person brought to them for so-called ‘development’. 

 In Irkutsk, they are generally referred to as “developers” and “in-cell developers”. So this completely dehumanised group of people, whose humanity and moral guidelines have all been erased after years of cooperating with FSB and FSIN officers, sets about stripping prisoners naked and beating them in the shower rooms. They tie them up and take them to small separate rooms. Because Saratov OTB-1, a regional tuberculosis hospital, existed as a prison, there is a special block in the prison with a lockable area and several lockable cells, all under video surveillance. This is where the subjects of this so-called development are taken, where the unfortunate victims are essentially separated out individually. We can see this in the video, and we have suspected it and written about it for years, where there is a guy stretched out in an uncomfortable position. Depending on what they need to do to him, on the task they’ve been given by the FSIN or FSB officers, they put the guy in the crucifix position, then they tie his legs in an awkward position so as to expose his anus, pardon the expression.

And that’s when it gets truly horrific. The institution’s main “kapo” comes in. In this case, it was Sergei Ananiev, who acts as a kind of orderly for the head of OTB-1. He is like an adjutant, a prisoner assistant, specifically for the head of the institution. He brings an FSIN video camera with him that he was given at headquarters. Then these horrific acts of torture and humiliation are recorded on camera, and I’m not only talking about a broom handle or a stick, but also gang rapes. It’s just that we can’t publish all of the video clips on our channel, of course, or go public with them at all, for ethical reasons. Yet we are now also being criticised for publishing the few we have done, and perhaps, in some ways, rightly so. There was simply no other way for us to show the public the sheer hell of what’s going on.

But there is far worse. There are case files that prove and show that gang rapes took place, and that the rapes were carried out by these same “developers”, including some with HIV. And when a guy doesn’t lose heart and tries not to incriminate himself, tries to avoid cooperating with this terrible system or giving evidence against his friends or himself even after being gang raped, then that’s when they resort to the most horrific torture I have seen in more than ten years of our anti-torture human rights activities. That’s when the spout of a kettle is inserted into his anus and the other end plugged into a socket. And it starts to heat up. At that point, almost anyone who had managed to stay strong up until then and thought they could withstand anything; well, at that point…

This is very hard to talk about, to be honest. But one has to. It must be spoken about, so society can finally wake up and realise that there are dozens of prisons committing torture in Russia. This has been going on over the past 10 years, under the leadership of the FSB, who supervised and controlled the entirety of the Federal Penitentiary System. In a number of regions, “Kapos” exist. This refers to those who aid the penitentiary service, in exchange for improved conditions of detention, or the possibility of parole, for dates with, excuse the expression, prostitutes, for drugs, for sports nutrition, steroids and so on. They are committing grave, and violent crimes on an almost daily basis, against their fellow citizens.

This is an objective reality, and, accordingly, those committing torture operate in the interests of the generals of the Penetentiary Service and FSB, who, with the help of this indicidual, maintain an atmosphere of fear in the said institutions. The question is not whether 10 or 15 institutions are committing torture, and all the rest are fine. In almost any institution, prisoners understand what happens if they don’t follow orders from the penitentiary service and FSB. It doesn’t matter, perhaps they refused to cooperate, or refused to install some kind of hidden surveillance camera or audio recording on Aleksei Navalny for example. Or they refused to testify against Albats and Osechkin. In any case, as soon as a command comes from above, if this person showed some kind of humanity, tried to defend his dignity, tried to say that he would not act the way this totalitarian system wants him to – a non-procedural decision is made on the line of operational management, a call is made from the central office of the Federal Penitentiary Service. And what we now see on these video archives, which Sergei gave us, is that hundreds of prisoners in recent years from across the Krasnodar Region, Rostov-on-Don and Dagestan, as well as other places, were brought to Saratov OTB-1 for torture and humiliation.

E. Albats: Vladimir, let me interrupt you so I can give the floor to Pavel Chikov. Only I have to say that these so-called “Kapos” that Vladimir Osechkin mentions is a word that originated from German concentration camps and is short for “kameradschaft-polizei”. This is a concentration camp auxiliary police officer, this was especially common in camps where Jews were held, who were sent to the gas chambers. These Kapos, as a rule, were the Jews themselves, who helped the Nazis to reason, persuade their fellow people. There are absolutely terrible stories, like in the Lodz ghetto, where the Kapos persuaded those in the ghetto to give up their children, saying that then you will give birth to new ones. No new ones were born either, because they went to the same gas ovens. But this is just an apropos to what Vladimir Osechkin is saying.

Pavel Chikov, you are a lawyer. Please explain to me why this system, which Mr. Osechkin is talking about, exists in the Russian Penitentiary Service? And how can you, as a lawyer, confirm that this exists throughout the entire criminal system of Russia?

P. Chikov: Listen, the Russian penitentiary system, and anyone who works in this system says this quite often, is a state within a state. It is the mass isolation of 600,000 prisoners. Or how many now – 200-250,000 employees. With huge manufacturing facilities, scattered all over the country. It’s an enormous system, which is carefully managed. There is no doubt about what Vladimir is talking about, it’s centralised management. That is, these are not just some kind of excesses by those on the ground.

E. Albats: Hold on. Excuse me. One more time, this is very important. What does centralised mean?

P. Chikov: Vladimir said that detainees from some regions are transported to specific colonies and correctional facilities in other regions in order to subject them to similar treatment. The decision to transfer from one region to another is made only by the central office. And this procedure itself oversees the movement of prisoners, as they call it, whom to send where, and for what reason.

There are of course several restrictions. That prisoners should serve most of their sentence close to home. But there are certain categories of prisoner, for example terrorists, who they send wherever. Why is this being done? It’s done in order to get some kind of leverage, to blackmail the person. Because this humiliation, that is, the transfer to a lower caste, also came, as Vladimir correctly says, from the Gulag era. When the criminal hierarchy was created, what was it for? It was to manage the huge number of prisoners; in those days there were millions of prisoners. There weren’t enough staff. And it was necessary to construct a hierarchy of prisoners to facilitate their management. At the moment, this situation is mainly controlled by the security forces. That is, the employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service. And when they need to obtain information, solve some kind of a crime, or actually implement something – they use these methods established among prisoners in the penitentiary system. And modern technology, in the form of video recorders, they just give one hundred percent proof.

You see, that is, if a prisoner is raped and this is recorded on video, this video will be kept and can be used to discredit him at any point. That is, the fact that Vladimir managed to take these recordings, this can be used precisely as a method of blackmail and pressure. […]

Translated by Nathalie Corbett, Nicky Brown, James Lofthouse and Mercedes Malcomson.

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