Karinna Moskalenko: Torture in Russia – how it goes

30 June 2021

by Karinna Moskalenko, attorney, international lawyer, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

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

On 28 June 2021, a group of lawyers and public defenders representing the interests of victimised prisoners in Penal Colony No. 15 in Irkutsk examined a number of documents provided by investigator S., including expert opinions on the individuals examined in this case, as well as other documents.

In the course of familiarising themselves with these materials, the defence established irrefutable facts regarding crimes against prisoners, which took place after the events of 10 April 2020 in Penal Colony No. 15 of the Main Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation in the Irkutsk Region, taking the form of extensive cruel beatings, monstrous torture, the rape of male prisoners with various objects (according to victims, a mop handle, a broom, bottles, rolled-up paper wrapped in polyethylene and other thing). The scale of these phenomena is such that it borders on crimes against humanity.

Obviously, all the officials – medical workers who examined prisoners after the torture, persons who interrogated convicts after beatings, officials of the colony and pre-trial detention centres where they were kept – did not attach due importance to these facts and did not give them a proper legal assessment. In this way, these persons contributed to the impunity of the administration of Penal Colony No. 15, employees of the law enforcement agencies working in the colony, employees of the pre-trial detention centres – No. 1 in Irkutsk and No. 6 in Angarsk – as well as prisoners operating under the control of the administration of penitentiary institutions of the Irkutsk Region.

In particular, according to the materials of the criminal case, convict T., according to expert opinion No. 3054 dated 9 June 2021, had the following bodily injuries: “fractures of 6-7-8 ribs (in the written narrative – 4-5-6 ribs) with bruising to the soft tissue on the back of the torso caused by a hard blunt object with a small surface area”, as well as numerous “bruises on the thighs and buttocks”, which generally confirms the testimony of the victim of torture, and their location is indirect evidence that, along with other forms of torture , he was raped in the anus with a shovel handle, as the victim himself maintains.

Another convict, N., who claims to have been severely beaten and raped with a roll of paper wrapped in polyethylene, according to expert report No. 740 of 24 May 2021, had the following injuries: “… bruises on the soft tissues of the back, the lower back, and the back of the thighs”. 

And further: “linear abrasions to the left forearm, bleeding a moderate amount.” “Multiple soft tissue contusions on both shoulders, both thighs, both buttocks, and the back.” 

It should be particularly noted that the descriptions of the injuries in the inspections of both prisoners are based on initial examinations in the spring/summer of 2020, carried out immediately after the violence took place. 

These examinations were performed carelessly, without sufficient indication of the location of the lesions, their condition, size and colour, and, moreover, do not contain the results of examinations of the genitals and anus. 

The testimonies of witnesses and victims contain shocking descriptions of atrocities, rape, humiliation, intimidation and mass bullying, which until now remain uninvestigated, and none of the officials guilty of the sadistic torture of prisoners of Penal Colony No. 15 of the Irkutsk region have been prosecuted – they continue to work in the system of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia.

Given the facts described by the victims of violence, and the medical documents – albeit of extremely low quality – drawn up in the spring/summer of 2020, such a protracted failure to take measures to initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible for these crimes was unacceptable. In the meantime, much of the original evidence has been lost.

It is also outrageous that most of the victims have not yet been recognised as such; thus they are deprived of the opportunity to exercise the procedural rights guaranteed by Russian law. Only four of them are afforded the status of victims. 

The case is being investigated in Irkutsk, but the pace of the investigation is very slow. Is the regional investigative body able to be sufficiently independent, and the investigation effective in conducting investigative actions, given that the investigative actions are taking place in the same penitentiary institution where people were tortured and humiliated? It is this question that is being put today to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation and the Chair of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. 

Translated by Anna Bowles

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