Rampant Torture in Russia’s Prisons

By | July 14, 2018

Reports from Russian pretrial prisons (SIZO) and corrective colonies, IK (labor camps) for convicts that are under responsibility of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), which is subordinated to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, show that due to the regime introduced in some of these incarceration facilities they have become places of constant torture. Very troubling information comes from the city of Omsk (Siberia), where the facilities are under responsibility of the Omsk Directorate of FSIN, the Omsk UFSIN. It is indicative that in 2008, the OMSK UFSIN was declared the best directorate within the FSIN. The Moscow journalist Yelena Masyuk from the “Novaya gazeta” (“New Newspaper”) interviewed several recent inmates in Omsk. Here are excerpts from a few of them.

Ruslan Suleimanov

Omsk, SIZO-1. In 2015, it was recognized as one of the best investigation prisons in Russia. Ruslan Suleimanov, who was released on April 28, 2018 after serving a term in IK-7 (Correction Colony of Special Regime) of the Omsk Region, recalled his arrival in the SIZO-1:

It was on Monday, March 10, 2016, in the pre-trial detention center (SIZO) No. 1 in Omsk. […] I was among 17 people who arrived. We were put into a small cell, standing like herrings in a can. We were led out one by one to “a cell with a mattress,” where many employees [of the SIZO] were standing. There was a bed, and a plate with buckwheat porridge and a spoon was on it. And the staff said: “Eat one spoon and go away.” This was presented as a ritual of acceptance of a newcomer. Everyone was forced to eat a spoonful of the buckwheat. The spoon was one for all. But you could not touch this dish, you could not eat it. This was a dish of “untouchables.”

[According to the rules of Russian criminal world that are followed by both the convicts and their guards as well, gays and those men who were raped in custody are “untouchables”, meaning that they are treated as a “untouchable” cast, they are at the bottom of prison life, and their dishes could not be touched; and they could be raped at any time – V.B.].

When I came in, I already knew not to eat. The dishes were “dirty”, having been used by the “untouchables.” The idea was to humiliate us this way. I refused to eat with this spoon. The others ate, and the staff did not touch them. There, on the floor, was a rolled-up mattress and a pillow soaked in the urine. They [staff] told me: “We will now poke you into the urine.” I said: “Poke in”. They began to poke me in. And I could not feel the smell because of a head injury.

There were six or seven SIZO employees. They stretched my legs on the mattress, kept me on all sides, pulled off my pants, panties and began to push this porridge into my anus. Spoons six or seven, probably, they pushed in, and then they emptied the plate on me and just pushed the porridge into my anus with the handle of a mop. […]

Then the head [of the SIZO], a colonel, came in. I said: “What is this?” He answered: “My employees can’t do this.” And he laughed.

I had a razor blade hidden […] I took out the blade and started to slash my stomach and cut my neck. They immediately ran up and began to twist me, to beat me up. And then “disinfection” was done to me. One of the staff […] unzipped his pants and pissed me on wounds on my stomach and neck. He said: “This is disinfection for you.” And I had already had my stomach and neck covered with blood.

I was not taken to a hospital […] They just threw me in a cell. The next day they treated my wounds with a disinfectant. After that, I spent four days on a dry hunger strike, and I was taken to the colony from there.

When I came to the colony [IK-7], I wrote a complaint […] and gave it to the operative. Then I received a statement from the 10th Police Precinct of Omsk that I’ve cut myself because I did not want to serve time in Omsk, since it is so far from home. And there was no violence on the part of the SIZO-1 staff.

As the Omsk human rights activist Irina Zaitseva described, in another pretrial Omsk facility, SIZO-3, “people were killed, […] prisoners [men] were forced to wear skirts, put lipstick on their lips, walk naked along the corridors, rape each other.”

Omsk Region, IK-7. The situation in the colony IK-7, where Suleimanov was sent, is infamous for sadistic torture. Suleimanov described his arrival:

When I was brought to the IR-7 (Omsk), at once there was a search, then I was brought into the office only in underpants. I was placed on a mattress, they took off my underpants, took my hands, twisted them behind my back and started to force them forward . .. They stretched my legs, then attached wires to the feet and ran electrical current. One officer was standing in front of me and I saw him searching in his pants, then he came up behind me, sat down on my knees from behind and said: “Crow or I’ll rape you.”

Vakha Magomedkhadzhaev

Another former inmate, Vakha Magomedkhadzhaev, released on January 12, 2018, recalled:

I was in the IK-7 for 11 years. Of them, for eight months I was kept in the EKPT [internal prison in the colony – V. B.]. They wanted to give me an additional term. I was tortured there by the local FSB operatives, and the head of the EPKT was with them, and the [colony] operatives.

These people pick you up at night, bring you on the second floor, tie your hands behind the back, pour water in a big tank and put your head in the tank and hold it under water until you shake. They pull your head out of water and ask: “Will you confess? Will you sign?” They torture [prisoners] enormously there.

Torture there is terrible. They undress you, they bring a man up to you and say: “Now he will rape you if you do not sign. Now we’ll push a club inside you.”

There’s still a cage in the corridor there. When a person is brought, he is put in this cage before the search. And what they do: they undress you completely, hang you up naked, you can touch the floor only by your toes, and they put a bag over your head. You are hanging until your hands turn blue, and they demand you to confess. I was hung upside down. On the second or third day a prosecutor came in and said: “What is the matter with your eyes? Why are they red?” I said: “What could happen to the eyes? They torture people here.” And the head of the colony, who was present, said: “His blood pressure rose, so his eyes are red. We gave him a pill, we called a doctor, now he’s okay.” The prosecutor smiled and left. All local prosecutors know what’s going on there.

Prisoners in this colony are like zombies. In quarantine [during the first days after prisoners have been brought in] they force prisoners to jump as if they are catching butterflies, walk like a caterpillar, they put needles under your fingernails … It’s very scary when they put you on your back, bind your arms and legs; two or three men sat on your stomach, hold your head, close your nose with a clothespin, and then pour water into your mouth from a bottle. This torture is so terrible! When they pour water, the throat seems to burst, it hurts so much.

It is enough to tell prisoners that they will be taken this place [EKPT of the IK-7], and they confess, in order not to be taken there.

They don’t allow prisoners to pray. They say that it’s enough to pray once a day [Magomedkhadzhaev is a Muslim – V. B.]. […]

A person is afraid of complaining. […] If you complain, then they say to you: “Now we’ll put you to the ‘harem’, in the cell with “untouchables”, and we’ll beat you up all the way.” Therefore, a man tolerates everything there. If you were late for work, or in some other cases, they take you to the second or third floor to the Operative Department, and there they put you into the “extension” [“rastyazka” –  A couple of hours in this position results in a long-term limp in both legs and suffering from pain in the lower back – V. B.]. And they beat you with a big wooden hammer [kiyanka] on your back, on the buttocks, they put on boxing gloves and beat you on your head.

And here is how life of the convicts is described on the colony’s website:

The institution operates a cultural and leisure center, which houses a library, a museum of military glory. The vocal-instrumental ensemble “7th city”, the theater-studio “Lagerek”, a brass band are functioning. Competitions among convicts in various sports take place. Equipped with two gyms: for general physical training and for game sports. In the units there are table games. On November 13, 2008 the Orthodox Church of the “New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia” was opened and consecrated in the institution. […] Also, there is a mosque, which is visited by 20 Muslims. There is a cable TV in the detachments. There is a café on the site.

According to the activist Irina Zaitseva, Major General Nikolai Papichev (1948-2010) was responsible for creating the torture system in the Omsk Region. Papichev headed Omsk UFSIN with its 15 prison facilities, from 2003 to 2010; previously, from 2001 to 2003, he was first deputy head of Moscow Penitentiary Service. In April 2010, Papichev returned to his native city of Volgograd. Two months later, on June 11, 2010, he was shot five times, then a control shot was made in his head. Obviously, this was a revenge killing.

And Paichev cynically wrote on human rights issues and even defended a Candidate Thesis about “protection of human rights.” Human rights activist Zaitseva wrote:

As head of the Omsk UFSIN, Nikolai Papichev wrote several books, including Actual Issues of Observing the Rights of Victims of Crimes, Actual Problems of Protecting the Rights of Suspects and Convicts, and also defended his thesis for a degree of candidate of legal sciences. The theme of his scientific work was “Protection of Human Rights and the Problem of the Method of Legal Regulation.”

On the situation in the IK-7, Zaitseva commented:

Concerning IK-7, I’ve written many applications to the Prosecutor’s Office [and] to the SK [Investigative Committee]. They opened a criminal case against inspector of the IK-7 Security Department [Vasily Trofimov], for exceeding the official authority by an employee (Part 1, Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). He will be tried in the Soviet Regional Court [of Omsk]. This staffer was in charge of arriving prisoners and organized [a gang of] athletes from among the prisoners who helped him. […] They did all this not only in IK-7, but also roamed in all colonies [of the Omsk Region], in order to “press” the convicts.

After my letters, the Investigative Committee installed cameras in the IK-7, and the [Omsk] UFSIN did not know about it. Now there is documentary evidence, a videotape, showing how they humiliated the convicts, beat them up, forced the naked convicts to dance waltzs in the corridor. […] On April 2 of this year, this film was shown on the Omsk TV channel “Antenna-7”. But later they removed the video from their site.

However, even if one staffer of the IK-7 is sentenced in the court, it is doubtful that the whole system of torture in Omsk facilities will disappear.

In June 2018, the journalist Masyuk visited the IK-7. Some of the prisoners described enormously sadistic torture they had been subjected despite the presence of their torturers – officers of the colony during the interviews.

Convicts in a correction colony for women, Russia

The situation is not better in women’s colonies not so far from Moscow. Anna Dmitrieva (the name was changed for publication) spent six years in a Mordovian correction colony, about 124 mi from Moscow. In an interview, she said:

[On arrival,] I was immediately led into the room for a search. They [staffers] started cursing me, using the worst foul language, so my eyes went to my forehead. I told them: “How are you talking to me!” And they began to beat me up. Then I realized, where Mordovia begins, the Russian laws end. They took me to the operative, he […] beat me onto my head with his fists, and in my stomach […]. Then they sent me to the ShIZO [a prison within the colony – V. B.], and I stayed there for the rest of the time.

According to Dmitrieva, prisoners-women were escorted to the ShIZO in a pose of “a flying swallow.” This is a type of torture when hands of a prisoner are cuffed or tied behind the back and the prisoner is ordered to bend his body to 90˚ and keep the tied arms up. Dmitrieva explained:

This is how the convicts for life are forced to move, like “a crayfish”: the head down, hands behind the back are up. In this pose they forced us [in the ShIZO] to run along the corridor, this is how they humiliated us. Additionally, they beat us up with truncheons when we ran.

There were four prisoners in the cell. In the morning the mattrasses for sleeping were taken away. The staff forced prisoners to run around the cell.

There was nothing there [in the ShIZO cell], it was very cold there, and the staff took our socks and panties from us. The door of the cell was made of bars, and during the winter the ShIZO employees kept the door to the building open to the street, so cold went into the cell. We had only some dresses and slippers. I was cold, hungry, beaten, – well, in short, this was a concentration camp.

Once I was so severely beaten, just there are no words. The head of the industrial zone was a maniac, he used to find a victim and mocked her. [The Russian correction colony (camp) is divided in two zones, the living zone, were prisoners live, and the industrial zone, where they work. There are separate heads of these zones, and above them, there is the head of the colony – V. B.]

A woman-guard made a remark to me, and I cursed her back. […] She complained to the head of the industrial zone. He came, took me out and led me into the room where the mattresses on which we slept at night were kept. He told me: “Get down on your knees and ask for forgiveness from the guard.” I refused. He hit me with an iron truncheon. My ass became black . . . it was one solid bruise. I was all black […]. When I entered my cell, the girls [cellmates] started yelling, they were in a shock from my appearance. […] And the head of the industrial zone began visiting me every day and beating me on the same bruises. I thought he would kill me in the end. It was good that finally they took me away.

In the ShIZO prisoners were almost not fed: “They would put two spoons of porridge on a plate and distribute the porridge over the plate.” Dmitrieva’s cellmates lived day by day expecting beatings. This tension was very damaging to the psyche, and prisoners were committing suicide. Dmitrieva explained:

I remember many such cases. In 2012, Tatyana Chepurin was beaten up by the colony’s staff and was not allowed to go the restroom. She committed suicide. Her corpse was thrown out near the bakery, it was laying there for several days. It was not accepted at the morgue because the body was all bruised. Zulfiya [committed suicide] in the cell, unable to withstand the beatings. Gavrilova Tanya was almost killed. They handcuffed her to the grate and three of them, including the head of the colony, kicked her, struck her on the head, and her pelvis was broken. She became an invalid.

According to Dmitrieva, the colony’s staff demanded from convicts 200% of product at work. If a prisoner was working bad, the women-guards beat her up with sticks. While a woman-prisoner was sitting and sewing, the woman-guard was coming from behind and beat her on the head. “They can move the whole crowd of prisoners to a dark room and beat them up there. After this when a column of prisoners is marching, everyone has bruises. One gray mass.”

The situation with pregnant arrested women in pretrial prisons and women-prisoners in labor colonies is especially tragic and inhuman. Here are excerpts from the recent interview about pregnant women in custody and the fate of their kids born in prisons and camps with Leonid Agafonov, a human rights activist who heads the project “Woman, Prison, Society”:

In the spring of 2018, in total there were 47,800 women-prisoners in Russia. Three quarters of them were between the ages of 20 and 35, that is, in the most suitable age for the bearing and giving birth to children. Many of the arrested learn that they are pregnant while in prison. […]

According to Russian law, a woman with a child under three years of age should not be separated from the child, but in practice [during the arrest of the mother] children are not taken into the prison. […]

The FSIN does not take into account the documents about pregnancy from outside medical institutions. This means that a woman with a big belly, visible to everyone, is placed in a cell with other women-prisoners. […]

If you visit such a cell, you see a pregnant woman laying on the concrete floor. On a thin mattress. She complains that she can’t climb on the upper bunk. There are no ladder to the second bunk, of course. […]

The attitude to the pregnant prisoner will not change and no additional food will be given to her until the prison doctor registers her pregnancy. And the meeting with the doctor is sometimes delayed for months. […]

Women-prisoners often tell us that the FSIN officers are trying to persuade them to have an abortion. […]

Each year about 450 babies are born in Russian prisons and labor colonies […]

In these hospitals, pregnant prisoners are handcuffed to their beds during labor, which can last several hours or all day, so the hospital employees do not need not to sit and watch the patient. […] There are no FSIN instructions forbidding doing that. However, FSIN workers can always simply say that the pregnant woman-prisoner was inclined to escape. […]

Two hours after the delivery, the woman-prisoner is taken back to her cell. Babies remain for a month in the hospital, and then they are brought to the mothers kept in their cells. Therefore, there is no breast feeding at all. By the time the women receive their babies they don’t have milk. […] According to doctors, a minimal period for a woman to stay in a medical institution after the delivery should be three days. […]

Those women-prisoners who have already given birth, are forced to write a power of attorney to the cellmate, that she will take care of the baby while the mother is taken to the court session. […]

According to law, there should be beds for babies. But babies are sleeping with their mothers. […]

In general, every child born in prison has a whole bunch of diseases which are not treated. If there is an inflammatory process or the temperature rises sharply, an ambulance is called in and the child is hospitalized. The mother, of course, remains in her cell. […]

According to law, walks of prisoners with children and pregnant prisoners are not limited. For a “walk”, pregnant women are put into a small cell with an open barred ceiling for an hour or longer. As it is well-known, at a certain time, pregnant women need to go to a bathroom frequently. But bathrooms does not exist in these cells for “walks.” The woman is forced to wait until she is returned to her cell. Because of this, the unfortunate women-prisoners refuse to go for such “walks.” […]

As for children’s walks, […] kids regularly fall there, get injured, and the jailers hide these incidents. […]

In the colonies, babies are always behind barbed wire. They do not see the surrounding world or nature at all. And it happens that in those places mothers-prisoners raise kids up with their hands, so that the kids can admire what is going in the surrounding world outside the barbed fence. This way they can see cars, trees, passers-by. […]

If somebody does not bring [toys] from outside, then the child has nothing. […]

In Russia, there are 13 orphanages for children, attached to the labor colonies, where mothers-prisoners are allowed to spend a few hours per day with their kids. Here is an example of the attitude to the babies in these places: recently a child has vomited and died from choking. […]

At the age of three years the child is taken away from the mother. This separation is difficult for both children and their mothers. And, of course, they are separated instantly. Without any preparation, especially psychological. […]

Agafonov concluded: “It’s terrible that the current Russian legislation allows both mitigating punishment for women with children, and releasing them earlier, but this legislation does not work.”

On the whole, there are more than 60,000 children in Russian orphanages. Clearly, part of them are children born in prison and labor colonies.

Colony IK-6, St. Petrsburg

On June 17, 2018, new information was published about the situation now in the colony IK-6 in St. Petersburg. According to the prisoner (his name was not given), in mid-March he was summoned to the colony’s office and a FSIN operative demanded he provide him with details about a conflict with another prisoner. After the convict’s refusal, the officer strapped him to a chair, smashed the prisoner’s face and applied an electric shock to him about half an hour.

After the prisoner left the room where he was tortured, he opened his veins. The wounds were sewn up by the medical orderly of the colony. Two weeks later, the prisoner was transferred to the hospital of the Petersburg department of FSIN, where he reported torture to members of the Public Observation Commission (ONK) of St. Petersburg.

The ONK members filed a complaint to the Investigation Committee of Russia about the torture. In the meantime, the Petersburg department of FSIN stated that an investigat did not confirm the fact of torture, and the prisoner supposedly denied his statement. In fact, during a new visit of the ONK members, the victim said that the FSIN operatives are pressuring him, demanding he abandon the complaint.


Author: Vadim Birstein

Dr. Vadim J. Birstein is a historian and geneticist. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers and books and has written two scholarly historical works, "The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science" and "SMERSH, Stalin's Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII". He received the inaugural "St. Ermin's Intelligence Book Award" in 2012 for SMERSH.

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