Leonid Nikitinsky: Better, of course, to torture

22 January 2022

by Leonid Nikitinsky, columnist for Novaya Gazeta, member of the Russian Presidential Council for Human Rights, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Новая газета]

‘Do you want to be finished off right away, or do you want to be tortured?’

‘Better, of course, to be tortured.’

from the film White Sun of the Desert [This quotation, to which the article’s title is a reference, is added by ed.]

The intrigue around the ‘torture’ bill shows the ‘siloviki’ [law enforcement and security services] do not want to part with this ‘instrument’ 

On 21 January on the initiative of the New People faction in the Duma, a round table was held, dedicated to the bills on torture either currently before or soon to be brought to the Duma. At the event, among the speakers were Lev Ponomarev*, the Committee against Torture*, the Public Verdict Foundation* and other so-called ‘foreign agents’ who had been invited (with whom deputies are, unofficially, not recommended to communicate), as was the co-author of one of the bills, Pavel Krasheninnikov.

The intrigue lies in the fact that, before 20 December when Klishas and Krasheninnikov’s draft was submitted to the Duma, which everyone learned about from the latter’s interview with the Duma’s press service, priority had been given to the draft bill that Liudmila Narusova, together with members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human rights (the Human Rights Council), including Igor Kalyapin, as well as the Public Verdict Foundation, had been preparing for a year. As Narusova told us, she heard the message about the draft submitted by Klishas and Krasheninnikov in the car on her way to the Federation Council, where Valentina Matvienko had scheduled a meeting to discuss the submission of her draft to the Duma. Klishas and Krasheninnikov were also invited.

Earlier, Andrei Klishas had suggested that instead of the draft developed with the participation of human rights activists, Matvienko should sign off on theirs. When she refused, Klishas’ colleague explained that ‘the draft had been sent down from the Main Legal Department, and nothing can be changed.’ In fact, three days later – an unprecedented level of promptness – a positive evaluation was received from the government regarding this draft, in which deputy chair of the Council of Ministers Grigorenko indicated the project ‘conforms to the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union of 29 May 2014’, which finally put an end to Senator Narusova’s draft (Novaya gazeta has a copy of this evaluation).

Of the three versions of the drafts discussed on 21 January at the House of Unions, the Klishas-Krasheninnikov draft is the most mild: it provides only for tougher punishment under Article 302 of the Criminal Code for ‘coercion of a suspect, accused, victim, witness to testify … by using threats, blackmail or other illegal actions …’, as well as some other changes, but without introducing a separate article on torture into the Criminal Code, on which human rights activists continue to insist.

Some of the human rights defenders continue to support the ‘Narusova package’ which provides for amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure that make testimony given without a lawyer legally null and void, and amendments to the Federal Law ‘On detention …’  changing the rules for moving prisoners from cell to cell (this would make it difficult to use the so-called sweatboxes) and providing for allegations about beatings to be investigated within three days. Other human rights defenders have been convinced by Krasheninnikov that his draft bill has already been registered and it is possible to work only within the framework set by him. They suggest a reconciliation, and that some of the proposals from the Narusova package be added to the draft of the Klishas-Krasheninnikov bill at second reading, detailing the relevant articles of the Criminal Code to be amended, but without, however, creating torture as a separate crime.

According to the Parliamentary Newspaper of 20 January, on the eve of the round table, the bill ‘On Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation’, as its co-authors modestly call it, can be considered in first reading as early as 8 February. Human rights defenders, including those who remain in the Human Rights Council, hope that they will still be able to agree with some of the Duma deputies in order to introduce radical amendments in the second reading.

The security and law enforcement lobby — investigators, case officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB and, alas, employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service associated with them, have enough influence in the Federal Assembly to pass such a law ‘on torture’, which as previously will not constrain them from using torture. As I already wrote in an article that was published on the Novaya gazeta website on 11 January, both investigators who have forgotten how to obtain evidence other than through ‘confessions’ and some of the Federal Penitentiary Service employees covering up, and receiving a share of the ‘profits’ of, the extortion practised by ‘activists’ in places of detention, are interested in maintaining the practice of torture.

After video evidence of torture was made public at the end of last year, it is no longer possible to conceal this problem. On 6 January, the Kremlin published a list of the president’s instructions following his December press conference. In paragraph No. 11, the president mildly instructed the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office to ‘analyse the practice of applying penal legislation and … prepare proposals aimed at preventing the use of illegal methods of influence on persons held in custody and sentenced to imprisonment.’ It is impossible not to fulfil the president’s order at all, but you can get away with lobbying for a law that, in fact, will change very little.

* organisations and persons marked with an asterisk are recognised by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation as ‘foreign agents’.

Translated by James Lofthouse and Ecaterina Hughes

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