20 February 2021
by Lev Ponomarev, head of the national non-governmental organization For Human Rights and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
“THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MEDIA OUTLET ACTING AS A FOREIGN AGENT AND/OR A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY ACTING AS A FOREIGN AGENT.” — A ritual spell to banish demons.
The modern Russian system of enforcing prison sentences is the empire of the investigative operatives of the Federal Penitentiary Service [FSIN]. They are the source of all violence that fills penal colonies and remand prisons. They beat out testimonies in criminal cases, and they torture people, forcing them to confess falsely against themselves and their cellmates. And it’s not the guards who are doing this — it’s not their job. Their job is to discipline inmates, to feed them — basically, to enforce the sentence in the sense of imprisonment.
The most renowned of these instances of violence in recent years was the death of Tesak. We weren’t directly involved in this case, but judging from information in the media, his death was a result of pressure from FSIN investigative operatives. I have been saying for years that law enforcement officers of this kind should be removed from the system. These operatives should be tasked with guarding the perimeter of penal colonies; inside the buildings there should only be civilians. Unfortunately, that’s not currently the way things are. Correctional facilities are filled with investigative operatives, and this is a problem nationwide.
The NGO For Human Rights and the foundation In Defence of Prisoners’ Rights are conducting a public investigation into torture at penal colony No. 15 and remand prison SIZO No. 6 in Irkutsk region. We made a film called Two Months until Freedom, appealed to the Russian and Irkutsk ombudsmen, and successfully initiated two criminal cases. In one of these cases, Evgeny Yuchenko (the main hero of our film; a victim of torture and witness of rape) was recognized as a victim. We received final confirmation of this the other day. The case has begun.
Nevertheless, we understood that there would be resistance, and indeed there is.
According to what we’ve heard recently from the families of convicts in Irkutsk region and from some of the defendants’ lawyers, investigative operatives at the correctional institutions in Irkutsk region are putting pressure on Evgeny Yurchenko’s former cellmates. Under threat of torture, they are forcing prisoners to make false statements about Evgeny’s active participation in the riots, with the aim of getting his status changed to ‘accused’ and having him taken into custody. One of those involved in developing the case in particular, nicknamed Boxer, who previously tortured convicts, is being pushed towards falsely accusing Yurchenko. It would benefit him to falsely accuse Evgeny in order to avoid responsibility, and the investigative operatives are using this to their advantage. If this isn’t stopped, they’ll get what they want sooner or later.
Everything is working out for them. Not long before this, A. Mazhidov (the head of Remand Prison No. 6 in Angarsk, where torture took place) was put in charge of prison colony No. 15 where a large number of the victims of this torture are located. And this ‘makes sense’ — his qualifications and skills can undoubtedly help the investigation sweep the criminal investigation into torture under the rug.
What we end up with is a contradiction. Evgeny is the victim in one criminal case, and in the new case that the Irkutsk FSIN operatives are putting together, he could be the accused.
Translated by Nina dePalma