Russian Authorities Launch Major Probe, Sack Officials Amid Reports of Rape, Torture in Penal System
12:41 GMT 08.10.2021 (Updated: 12:58 GMT 08.10.2021)
This week, a non-government organisation looking out for corruption and the mistreatment of prisoners in Russia’s correctional system published a massive archive featuring videos, photos and documents containing evidence of the suspected systemic torture and abuse of inmates in a prison hospital in Russia’s Saratov region.
Five prison officials have been sacked, checks have been initiated, and a criminal probe launched following the publication of a trove of over 40 gigabytes of materials of gruesome abuses at one of Russia’s prison colonies.
On Tuesday, the NGO Gulagu.net posted a leaked archive showing evidence of suspected torture, rape and other abuse at penal facility in Saratov, a region of Russia situated about 800 km southeast of Moscow. The evidence included footage of at least four episodes of sexual violence, rape, torture and humiliation of inmates at a prison tuberculosis hospital. One of the videos shows a naked man lying on a bed, his hands and legs tied, while another man abuses him with a long pole. A third individual holds a piece of cloth over the victim’s face to silence him, with a fourth filming.
Attorney Snezhana Muntyan has told Sputnik that 14 current and former prisoners have come forward to her to allege abuse and torture at the hospital in question.
“I have materials on 14 potential victims. They told me what happened to them on the territory of the hospital, when they were there to be treated. At the moment I am preparing the documents,” she said.
Muntyan specified that the majority of those who have came forward have already been released, but that there were also individuals who are still serving. “Torture, bullying, humiliation, all according to a standard pattern, the same thing among all the complainants, surprisingly. You listen to a person and understand that you’ve already heard this before somewhere…The employees of the prison colony don’t do anything with their own hands. They have flunkies who would carry out their instructions,” she said.
Officials Fired, Multiple Probes Launched
Russia’s Investigative Committee – responsible for combating corruption and misconduct among authorities, says its opened several cases related to the suspected sexual violence and abuse of authority by prison guards, with service director Alexander Bastrykin ordering the case to be transferred to the agency’s central office to ensure that “the most complete and objective investigation” takes place.
In addition to rooting out suspects, the organ has promised to provide a legal assessment of the action (or as the case may be – inaction) of other employees of the correctional facility, as well as the supervisory and regulatory bodies which are supposed to keep a check on abuses.
The Federal Penitentiary Service, meanwhile, announced the dismissal of the prison hospital’s director and three other employees. The head of the Federal Penitentiary Service for Saratov region, Col. Alexei Fedotov, has also been sacked.
The Office of the Prosecutor General – the central organ of Russia’s judicial system, has begun its own investigation across Saratov region’s penitentiary system to make sure that all laws on the observance of the rights of convicts to their personal security, and the responsibilities of penal system employees to ensure these rights, are upheld.
26 November 2020, 13:25 GMT
Kremlin Aware of Situation
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told reporters that the Kremlin has been made aware of the footage, and that if the authenticity of the leaked materials is confirmed, it will lead to serious criminal proceedings against those involved in the crimes.
“You know that an investigation is underway. This is very important. There was a reaction from the Investigative Committee. There was a reaction from the Federal Penitentiary Service itself. And there was a reaction from the Office of the Prosecutor General. Right now it’s necessary to await the results of the checks, to determine whether some kinds of criminal cases will be initiated, and how and when they will be initiated,” Peskov said, speaking to reporters on Thursday.
Prosecutors in Saratov region say the alleged crimes fall under Article 132 of the Russian Criminal Code – violent acts of a sexual nature. If convicted, suspects could be imprisoned for between four and ten years. If it is determined that grievous bodily harm was inflicted against the victim(s), the term would rise to between eight and fifteen years.
The scandal in Saratov is not the first of its kind. In 2020, the beating of an inmate at a prison colony in Yaroslavl region and the publication of a video by Russian media led to 12 former employees of the colony receiving prison sentences of up to four years and three months. Criminal cases against nearly a dozen prison guards were also opened in Irkutsk region over physical abuse against convicts following a sweeping investigation which interviewed over 1,100 people, including 75 victims and about 90 eyewitnesses.