Lev Ponomarev: We demand a thorough and open investigation of the disturbances in Prison Colony No. 15, Irkutsk region

12 April 2020

Lev Ponomarev is chair of For Human Rights — a nationwide human rights NGO — and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

Riots in a Russian Prison Colony: We Demand a Supervised Investigation (12.04.2020)

The Russian news networks have exploded. An extraordinary event had occurred – a riot had broken out in the No. 15 prison colony in Irkutsk region. The prison colony’s industrial zone was destroyed by fire. At least one person has died.

I quote the collective statement on behalf of myself and other human rights defenders, whereby we demand that the federal authorities investigate the matter, punish those found responsible, and work to prevent such events in the future. I would first like to give a short commentary on the situation.

1. When such events occur as these, the government, generally speaking, does everything to make sure that the underlying reasons are hidden from society. A statement is usually made saying that criminal authorities have destabilised the work of the prison colony, putting forward illegal demands and demanding indulgences for themselves. Such a statement has, indeed, already been made.

2.Scapegoat prisoners will be chosen to take the blame, and they will receive considerable additional sentences. 

3. The federal government will pass down responsibility for the investigation, giving it to the local security forces and then simply confirming the result of their investigation.

Thus, once again, the existing order will be solidified and re-established, with its system of sentences and based on violence and prisoner humiliation. More riots are likely to take place as a result. 

This statement has been signed by several dozen human rights activists. But an independent investigation, carried out by the federal government under the control of human rights defenders, can be achieved only with the care and observation of society as a whole. 

To the President of the Russian Federation, V. V. Putin.

To the Head of the Investigative Committee, A. I. Bastrykin, 

To the Director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, A. P. Kalashnikov, 

To the Prosecutor General, I. V. Krasnov, 


On 9 and 10 April, a riot took place in Prison Colony No. 15, a Russian Federal Penitentiary Service institution in the Irkutsk region. According to information available on the internet and in the media, there is good reason to think that the prison colony staff abused their authority in their actions.

We believe that a legal assessment should be made of the actions of the prison colony No. 15 administration and of the head of Federal Penitentiary Service for Irkutsk region, as they may have provoked the act of disobedience in the colony. There should also be an assessment of the actions of the law enforcement agencies who were suppressing the riot.

According to a video message from Anton Sergeevich Obalenichev, a prisoner of the No. 15 Prison Colony, he was unreasonably beaten by the prison officers on the evening of 9 April. In the video there are signs of bodily injury to the throat, arms and body.

20 prisoners were outraged at Oblanichev’s beating, which they felt was unjustified. They cut their own veins, and all prisoners were subsequently taken away from the No. 15 premises.  

On the morning of 10 April, prisoners of Prison Colony No. 15 performed an act of civil disobedience, refusing to go outdoors for exercises. They demanded an explanation for the occurrence of 9 April and the reason for the beating of Obalenichev.

The head of the Federal Penitentiary Service for Irkutsk region, L. A. Sagalakov, arrived at lunchtime on 10 April. After he addressed the prisoners, a revolt took place, during which significant damage was done to prison colony property. An undetermined number of people were injured as the riot was put down. According to official information, there has been one fatality. 

According to an available video recording, special operations guards of the Federal Penitentiary Service for Irkutsk region violently broke up the protest action. The footage shows employees of the Penal Service ruthlessly beating and humiliating prisoners. The video records possible abuse of authority and use of excessive force by the Penal Service members.

Based on the above, 


Considering the social importance and high-profile nature of the event, an investigation be placed under the authority of the central apparatus of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. In particular, it should:

  • undertake a careful and comprehensive investigation of all circumstances of the event and publish the results of the investigation
  • establish the circumstances surrounding the cause of the bodily injuries to Anton Sergeevich Obalenichev, which the prisoner claims in his video appeal, and give them a legal assessment.
  • give a legal assessment to the circumstances of the cause of injury to prisoners who were party to the occurrence.
  • investigate the cause of damage to prison colony property,
  • verify the legality and determine the justification for and proportionality of the application of physical force and of special means to each of the prisoners,
  • initiate criminal proceedings in connection with the death of the one prisoner.
  • inform relatives of prisoners held in Prison Colony No. 15 and of those removed from the colony after the event of their whereabouts without delay.

We also demand that, on 13 April 2020, independent human rights workers, members of the Public Oversight Committee for Irkutsk region, journalists and lawyers, and a representative of the Federal Penitentiary Service for human rights be allowed entry onto the premises of Remand Centers No. 1 and No. 6 in Irkutsk region, and that they be allowed to visit the prisoners removed from Prison Colony No. 15 and question them.

An attorney should be allowed to visit A. S. Obalevich, given that this prisoner was the initial cause of the riot.

Additionally, we consider the following to be necessary:

  • to familiarize human rights workers and journalists with the video recordings and the video archive of Prison Colony No. 15 for 9-12 April 2020 and with the video archive of the assault on the colony and of the suppression of the revolt.
  • in the interest of carrying out a comprehensive and independent investigation, to relieve Prison Colony No. 15 chief A. G. Vershchak and Irkutsk region Penitentiary Service head L. A. Sagalakov of their duties until such time as the causes, conditions, and consequences of the riot have been determined.

Signatories include:

  • Andrei Babushkin
  • Valery Borshchev
  • Oleg Orlov
  • Lev Ponomarev
  • Sergei Poduzov
  • Karinna Moskalenko
  • Nikolai Shchur
  • Tatyana Shchur
  • Zoya Svetova

For a full list of signatories, see here.

Translated by Alice Lee and Mark Nuckols

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