10 March 2008
Voice of America
Disturbing video of sadistic prison brutality has emerged in Russia. Authorities there do not dispute the images, but claim they are from the early 1990s. Russian human-rights activists say the violence occurred more recently. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports no dispute over a separate recording that shows a mass inmate protest against harsh prison conditions.
The video begins with barking dogs and an armored vehicle accompanying scores of riot police in flak jackets as they enter Penal Colony Number 2 near the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg.
One policeman punches a prisoner in the face; others mercilessly and repeatedly beat inmates with clubs, or kick them with heavy combat boots. It is brutal, indiscriminate, and potentially lethal punishment not permitted by any Russian legislation or court.
VOA contacted Russia's Federal Department of Sentence Enforcement, whose spokesman said its director, Yuri Kalinin, does not deny the abuse, but says it occurred in the early 1990s.
Human-rights advocates say the footage is believed to be from 2006 and only recently appeared on the Internet. It was obtained and circulated by the Moscow-based Foundation for the Defense of Prisoner Rights.
A member of Russia's Public Movement For Human Rights, Evgeniy Khlov, says the beatings were taped by prison officials to intimidate new prisoners.
Khlov says the people who brought the video to public attention are brave, self-assured people. He notes that the Internet makes it possible to distribute any kind of information to any part of the globe.
The entire video, a disturbing six-minute clip misspelled as Yekaterinaburg Prison Camp, has been posted on You Tube.
Evgeniy Khlov says responsibility for the violence is difficult to determine, but that it is most likely initiated by local prison officials, not on Kremlin orders. Khlov says some Russian prison administrators, many of them former soldiers, appear to have declared war on what they consider to be criminal ideology among inmates.
The activist says administrators feel the war against criminals compels them to torture, humiliate, and belittle those prisoners who adhere to criminal traditions.
The prison video also indicates authorities harass inmates by destroying their meager possessions. Beds are indiscriminately upended, personal effects are plundered, and conveniences such as chairs are broken.
Ruslan Rusakov, a former inmate at the Yekaterinburg facility, is shown on the video claiming that prisoners are also subjected to sleep deprivation.
Rusakov says prisoners are forced to clean floors and corridors, to run back and forth through the night before being permitted to sleep just five minutes before a 6:00AM reveille. Rusakov calls it total lawlessness, adding that prisoners are not considered human.
Activist Evgeniy Khlov says his organization continues to receive hundreds of letters from prisoners and their families complaining of human-ights violations while in detention.
Meanwhile, another video has emerged from Penal Colony Number Five in Russia's Amur Region, about 5,000 kilometers east of Moscow near the Manchurian border. Prisoners there used razors to cut their wrists in a protest against harsh prison conditions.
The prosecutor's office in Amur confirmed the incident to VOA and in a letter to the Foundation for the Defense of Prisoner Rights. Russian human-rights activists say the protest took place in January 2008, the prosecutor's letter says 2007. Both agree 142 prisoners cut themselves. The prosecutor's letter says they were treated for superficial wounds.
As one videotape illustrates inhuman treatment of Russian inmates, the other shows a mass protest against harsh prison conditions. If the images of the disputed recording are indeed recent, they suggest reemergence of the Gulag, the infamous Soviet prison system, where millions of political prisoners and criminals were subjected to beatings, forced labor, and temperatures of 40-below zero in distant isolation from the rest of the world.
If the video dates from the 1990s, as authorities insist, it is a rare look at a past that Evgeniy Khlov says few Russians care to acknowledge and much of which remains hidden in police archives.