Krem­lin’s pe­nal sys­tem wor­ries rights groups

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARC BENNETTS

MOSCOW | Russia’s pen­i­ten­tiary sys­tem has come un­der scru­tiny af­ter a Krem­lin critic said he was tor­tured at a prison camp and forced to shout, “Putin is our pres­i­dent!”

Il­dar Dadin, 34, made the claims in let­ters that his at­tor­ney and his wife in Novem­ber smug­gled out of the prison camp in Kare­lia, a re­mote re­gion in north­west­ern Russia. He also said he was se­verely beaten on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, hung up by his cuffed hands and threat­ened with rape. He said the head of the prison camp, a Maj. Sergey Kossiev, per­son­ally over­saw the tor­ture ses­sions.

Mr. Dadin said that when he com­plained to prison staff that

Russia’s con­sti­tu­tion for­bids tor­ture, he was told: “Don’t you un­der­stand where you are? The con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t op­er­ate here.”

Mr. Dadin was sen­tenced to 2½ years in prison in De­cem­ber 2015 af­ter he was found guilty of tak­ing part in il­le­gal protests. A law ap­proved in 2014 by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin bars any form of pub­lic dis­sent not ap­proved by au­thor­i­ties.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has des­ig­nated Mr. Dadin a pris­oner of con­science.

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment has called for Mr. Dadin’s “im­me­di­ate and un­con­di­tional re­lease” and urged Russia to carry out “deep re­form” of its pen­i­ten­tiary sys­tem. It also wants as­set freezes and visa bans against of­fi­cials ac­cused of tor­tur­ing Mr. Dadin and other in­mates.

“Dadin was con­victed for noth­ing more than peace­fully ex­er­cis­ing his right to free ex­pres­sion, and that in turn has led to fur­ther se­ri­ous phys­i­cal abuse against him and even death threats,” said Yu­lia Gor­bunova, a Russia re­searcher at Hu­man Rights Watch.

Russia’s prison ser­vice has re­jected Mr. Dadin’s ac­cu­sa­tions and called him “a tal­ented im­i­ta­tor.” The In­ves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee, an FBI-style or­ga­ni­za­tion that an­swers only to Mr. Putin, also said it found no ev­i­dence of tor­ture at the camp.

How­ever, other in­mates ques­tioned in­de­pen­dently by hu­man rights work­ers at the pe­nal colony cor­rob­o­rated Mr. Dadin’s claims. Pavel Chikov, a mem­ber of the Krem­lin’s hu­man rights coun­cil, said some pris­on­ers claimed they were tor­tured to the sounds of Lyube, one of Mr. Putin’s fa­vorite rock groups. Mus­lim pris­on­ers said they were beaten for at­tempt­ing to prac­tice their re­li­gion.

Mr. Dadin was trans­ferred out of the Kare­lia prison camp in early De­cem­ber. His fam­ily has not been no­ti­fied of his where­abouts.

Mr. Dadin’s claims were pub­li­cized by his wife, Anastasia Zo­tova, a 25-year-old jour­nal­ist. Ms. Zo­tova, who mar­ried Mr. Dadin while he was in a Moscow hold­ing cell in Fe­bru­ary, used her con­tacts among me­dia out­lets and hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions to draw at­ten­tion to her hus­band’s ac­cu­sa­tions of tor­ture.

“I might be able to save Il­dar,” Ms. Zo­tova told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “But without a di­rect or­der from above, the tor­ture of other pris­on­ers at the camp isn’t go­ing to stop. Only the man in the Krem­lin can make those kinds of de­ci­sions in Russia.”

More than 700,000 Rus­sians are be­hind bars. Hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions say tor­ture and other forms of phys­i­o­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal abuse are com­mon at prison camps through­out the coun­try.

“Russia’s pen­i­ten­tiary sys­tem has very much in com­mon with the Soviet sys­tem of gu­lags la­bor camps,” said Vladimir Osechkin, an anti-tor­ture ac­tivist. “Of­ten, they are even based in the same lo­ca­tions as the Soviet gu­lags. Tor­ture is wide­spread, as is rape and black­mail. The sys­tem has noth­ing to do with re­form­ing pris­on­ers.”

Ta­tiana Moskalkova, a for­mer po­lice gen­eral who was ap­pointed this year as Russia’s hu­man rights com­mis­sioner, de­nies that tor­ture is a sys­temic prob­lem in the coun­try’s prison camps. Ms. Moskalkova’s ap­point­ment was widely crit­i­cized by hu­man rights ac­tivists, who said her back­ground in law en­force­ment makes her un­suit­able for the post.

Sev­en­teen pris­on­ers who took part in a rooftop protest against tor­ture at a pe­nal colony in Russia’s Chelyabinsk re­gion are stand­ing trial on charges of “mass ri­ots.” They could face an ad­di­tional 10 years be­hind bars. A mem­ber of the Krem­lin’s hu­man rights coun­cil once com­pared con­di­tions at the pe­nal colony to a “con­cen­tra­tion camp.”

Mr. Dadin is not the first Krem­lin critic to re­port tor­ture.

Leonid Razvoz­zhayev, a left­ist po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist who is serv­ing 4½ years in prison af­ter be­ing con­victed of plan­ning mass ri­ots in 2014, said po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors tor­tured him into con­fess­ing.

Daniil Kon­stanti­nov, a na­tion­al­ist politi­cian with ties to the pro-democ­racy op­po­si­tion, told a Moscow court in De­cem­ber 2013 that po­lice of­fi­cers at­tacked him with elec­troshock de­vices — a tac­tic re­port­edly known in po­lice slang as “a phone call to Putin.” Mr. Kon­stanti­nov fled Russia in 2014 and now lives in Lithua­nia.

Al­most 200 peo­ple died in po­lice hold­ing cells across Russia in 2015. The ma­jor­ity of them had not even been charged with a crime, said Maria Berez­ina, a jour­nal­ist who tracks deaths in po­lice cus­tody. Ms. Berez­ina said the true num­ber of deaths is likely to be much higher.

Re­ports of tor­ture and other mis­treat­ment in Russia’s prison camps rarely spark wide­spread dis­cus­sion or protest.

“Or­di­nary peo­ple don’t care about tor­ture in prison,” said Ms. Zo­tova. “When I started look­ing for rel­a­tives of other pris­on­ers who had been tor­tured, I got lots of mes­sages from peo­ple say­ing, ‘It’s right that they tor­ture in­mates — they are crim­i­nals.’”

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