Russian authorities this week fired five senior prison officials and opened a series of criminal investigations after a rights group released testimonies and footage depicting what it described as orchestrated rape and torture in the country’s prisons.
Authorities this week launched a probe into a case in the central city of Saratov, after a video released by the anti-torture project Gulagu.net showed a naked man being violated with what appears to be a stick at a prison hospital.
The video, which resulted in the firing of five prison officials Wednesday, was part of a trove of over 1,000 files allegedly showing instances of torture in prisons across the country.
Gulagu.net also brought to light the situation in Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, near Mongolia, which has been plagued by violence since an April 2020 prison riot that was sparked after a guard beat an inmate.
In the months that followed, the Angarsk prison guards allegedly embarked on a brutal campaign of retribution for the mutiny, turning inmates on each other to extract confessions with beatings and sexual violence.
“I confessed that I broke two cameras during the Angarsk prison riot. I immediately told the staff. They saw everything, I never tried to hide it. But for those two cameras, they raped me and beat me,” a former inmate said in one of the many testimonies released. “My health has been severely damaged, I am still recovering,” the young man said.
According to Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of Gulagu.net, the abuses are widespread, taking place in prisons all over Russia. “A system of torture has been and is still operational,” he said.
“They (the authorities) are afraid to admit the truth in public, and the truth is awful because the truth is that their special services have been torturing people en masse.”
The disturbing nature of the footage and its apparently systemic nature has caught the eye of the Kremlin, which on Tuesday said there were grounds for a serious investigation if the footage was authentic.
Russia’s prisons were already in the spotlight after jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny drew attention to jail conditions earlier this year and six former inmates and a former prisons inspector told Reuters about regular beatings by guards, sexual assaults, severe psychological pressure and medical neglect.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which looks into major crimes, said on Wednesday it had opened a slew of inquiries into sexual violence and abuse of authority.
The Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) said it had fired five senior prison officials, including the director of the prison where the alleged abuse took place and the head of the regional prison service.
Russian law says inmates must not be treated in a way that is “harsh” or “abases human dignity”. If a prison official abuses his position, he can be jailed for up to a decade.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)