On July 20, 2018 the newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a video which created a sensation in the Russian blogosphere. The video was obtained by Irina Biryukova, the lawyer of convict Yevgeny Makarov, who was kept in the Correction Colony (labor camp) IK-1 of the city of Yaroslavl, located 250 kilometers (160 mi) northeast of Moscow, and provided to Novaya Gazeta by the human rights foundation “Obshchestvennyi verdict” (“Public Verdict”). The video was shot on June 29, 2017 on a portable video recorder by one of the FSIN (Federal Penitentiary Service) officers.
Emotionally, it’s hard to watch this video. It shows for 10 minutes how 18 FSIN officers tortured the handcuffed Makarov who was laying on a table with his head wrapped up in a towel in the so-called “classroom of educational work”. It is clearly seen that officers forced Makarov to the table and simultaneously beat him with their hands, fists and rubber truncheons on his shins and heels, and from time to time poured water on his head from a bucket when he fainted from pain.
Then the torturers removed his pants and underpants and forced him to come to his knees and to apologize for allegedly calling one of the torturers a “red-haired dog.” During the torture, officers threatened Makarov to “shove the torpedo” (meaning a rubber truncheon) into his anus.
The video presents only a part of the event, the torture continued longer. Another prisoner, Ruslan Vakhapov, who has been released from the colony since then, added more detail:
I heard moans and shouts from behind the door [at the time, he was kept in a cell in the same corridor – V. B.]. They scoffed at him about 40 minutes, the torturers exchanged, some went out to smoke, approached me and to my question what they were doing, they answered “we are educating him.” […] After the beating, [Makarov] was put in the SHIZO [punishment cell], he could not walk, he peed with blood, his kidneys were beaten up.
Vakhapov described other methods of “education” used in that colony: “A person is ordered to stand up looking at the wall, with feet being shoulder-width apart and hands on the wall; these are legal requirements, you must follow them. Then an officer begins to monotonously beat the prisoner in the same place on the body, usually on the thighs or buttocks. When I was there, one of the convicts was hammered to the point that [later] his buttocks became diseased. This was not the only case when a man beaten up by the colony’s staff was seriously injured.” As Vakhapov explained, to punish the “guilty” prisoners FSIN officers use rubber truncheons or wooden hammers.
A year before the publication of the video, in April 2017, the Public Verdict Foundation had already reported on the beatings of three prisoners in the Yaroslavl IK-1, of Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, Makarov, and Vakhapov. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) immediately ordered Russia to take urgent measures against beating prisoners and assigned the status of priority consideration. But the investigator of the Yaroslav Branch of the Investigation Committee (SK), 22-years-old Radion Svirsky, who had just graduated from the Law School of Yaroslavl State University, refused to open a case against the torturers in the IK-1, although he viewed video recordings of beatings. The Yaroslavl City and then Regional Court supported Svirsky’s refusal.
After the mass outcry in the press after watching the video, on July 20, 2018 the Yaroslavl SK Branch opened a case on abuse of official power and the arrests of officers seen in the video started. By September 19, 2018, 14 of 17 or 18 participants in the torture of Makarov were arrested. The SK also has opened an investigation into Svirsky’s refusal to investigate torture, although since then, Svirsky quit the SK office.
In the meantime, on July 23, 2018 the Public Verdict Foundation announced that Makarov’s lawyer Biryukova had left Russia due to threats to her and her family from several FSIN officers who tortured Makarov. Before leaving, she appealed to the central SK Office in Moscow because the Yaroslavl SK Branch had been discredited by not opening an investigation in 2017. She also pointed to the corruption in the investigation. The Yaroslavl investigator who is now involved in the investigation of the case, is a relative of the officer of the IK-1 Sipan Mamayan, one of the torturers in the video. Deputy Prosecutor for the Supervision of the Execution of Laws in correctional institutions Mikhailov is a relative of the deputy head of the IK-1, Igit Mikhailov. These details may explain why complaints of tortured prisoners have not been investigated since 2017.
By now, details of Makarov’s story are known. He was convicted five times. For the first time, Makarov was convicted of theft, being a minor, and the conviction was conditional. Then there were suspended sentences for a drunken fight. During the probationary period, Makarov stabbed an acquaintance with a knife during an altercation. The court sentenced him to seven years and six months of imprisonment, with his sentence to be served in a general regime colony. Makarov’s hiring of a lawyer and complaints about conditions in the prison had apparently made him a target of the FSIN officers..
First interrogations of the arrested FSIN officers revealed that the order to “educate” Makarov came from Dmitry Nikolaev, acting head of the IK-1 administration. On the morning of the beating, on June 29, 2017, Makarov confronted the FSIN officers using obscene language after he found out that while he was taken from his cell for a walk, they had searched his cell, dropped his mother’s letter on the floor and trampled on it. The officers reported to Nikolaev, and he “gave a conscious order to provoke Makarov and apply force to him.” Makarov was taken from his cell by force, brought to the “classroom of educational work” and “educated.”
The team of torturers was led by the assistant to the head of the IK-1 administration Dmitry Borbot and several other high-ranking IK-1 officers. The video record of the torture was given to Nikolaev, who sent it to the Deputy Head in charge of educational work of the Yaroslavl Region’s FSIN Directorate Aleksandr Stepanishchev. In his turn, Stepanishchev forwarded the video to the First Deputy Head of that Directorate Gennady Barinov. Both watched the record.
On August 24, Novaya Gazeta published a second video from the IK-1 recorded, most likely, in December 2016. FSIN officers–many of them are the same as in the first video, some others have balaclavas on their heads–are standing along a corridor, some with rubber truncheons. They are agitated and definitely expecting some action. One of the officers habitually puts fabric gloves on his hands. Another is warming himself up like before training. Clearly, the officers are preparing for a familiar procedure. They talk to each other, one of the officers tells another that a prosecutor had visited him because one of the prisoners complained about him. The companion answers: “Listen, Vlad, but were they treated properly as they should be?” Probably, he meant properly tortured.
The meaning of preparations becomes understandable when four prisoners in black robes are driven through the corridor, their shins and heads are struck from all sides. The officers beat them with hands, truncheons, and feet.
The FSIN officers who “meet” running prisoners attack one of them, who suddenly turns after the strike. The officers become even more agitated: “Oh! Now it begins!”
One of the officers orders another, a huge man in a blue T-shirt: “Sardor [Ziyabov], take care of these ones hard.”
After this another order follows: “Turn off the camera!”
At the end of the video the prisoners are taken to a distant room, and the FSIN officers are following them. There are truncheons in the hands of some. One of the officers peeks into a cell and asks the prisoner for a sheet. He hands the sheet over to his colleagues: “Will this one do? Wet it. There’s a sink.” After that the camera is turned off.
Later the prisoner Artur Gukasyan explained to the lawyer Eldar Luzin what happens in the video. At the time, he and the other prisoners on the video were kept in the SHIZO punishiment cells of the colony:
Approximately between 7: 00 and 8: 00 a.m., the doors of cells were opened, the FSIN officers in masks were standing [along the corridor]. […] They said that there would be a complete search and ordered us to run towards the classroom. First, we were sent in one direction, then they sent us back, then to the classroom again. During the running, they punched us with feet and rubber truncheons. Then they brought us into the classroom, put us in stretched position and beat us up. Then they searched us and after that released us. The blows were accompanied by screams, and they beat us all over the whole body. Beat on the head, body, legs.
After that, the prisoners were examined by medical personnel, but, according to Gukasyan, they did not record the signs of beating.
The third video published by Novaya Gazeta shows an “examination” by a doctor of Ruslan Vakhapov a week after on April 21, 2017 Vakhapov was, among others, terribly beaten by servicemen of the FSIN Special Squad. Such beatings are carried out in the IK-1 from time to time by this squad without any reason, and are called “trainings.” According to Vakhapov, the beatings are conducted in corridors, as was seen on the second video, and the members of the Special Squad are wearing balaclavas. After the beating on April 21, 2017, of all beaten up prisoners, only Nepomnyashchikh, Vakhapov, and Makarov complained.
Three days later jurists from the Public Verdict Foundation managed to receive access to these three prisoners and documented the injuries. Among other things, in case of Vakhapov they found “abrasions and cuts on the wrists of both hands from the handcuffs, swelling of the entire thigh of the left leg, in the upper and middle thirds of it there is a considerable bruise, the heels are beaten up.” About Makarova the jurists noted: “The whole hips are beaten up. Bruises are of the size of the hip itself.” And about Nepomnyashchikh: “There are bruises on the outer, back, inner side of the thighs. On the right leg there is a noticeable bruise on the outside. Muscles of the legs are stretched out.”
In the video, the doctor “examines” Vakhapov visually in 3 minutes and 5 seconds. Vakhapov is inside a cage, while the doctor is outside. Officially, doctor was identified as being from “an independent medical commission of the First Clinical Hospital of the city of Yaroslavl,” and the visit of this “commission” was in answer to the ECHR inquiry. The dialogue between the doctor and Vakhapov does not need a comment:
Doctor: “Why did they do this to you?”
Vakhapov: “For nothing, without reason. My heels are beaten up, and here, and the bones.” He tries to show his already healing injuries.
Doctor: “Well done, get dressed.”
Vakhapov: “Wait! This isn’t all, it’s just the beginning!”
Doctor, already on his way from the cage: “Beginning?” He returns to the cage. “And what else?”
Vakhapov: “This part is all broken. It’s broken here.”
Doctor, finally leaving: “Yes.”
On July 26, 2018, Mikhail Galperin, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, reported in Geneva to the UN Committee against Torture:
If the medical staff identify any injuries on inmates, a separate examination report is issued in three copies. As a result of the improved medical services and the preventive approach to illnesses, the death rate in the penitentiary system had decreased by 27 per cent recently.
Two more videos that the Public Verdict Foundation passed to Novaya Gazeta are very short, but important. On one of them, that lasts for 9 seconds, a naked person appears before the camera, and after the question “Do you have claims to these particular employees of the penitentiary system?” — loses consciousness. One can see his blue-colored buttocks and hematomas on his back. Someone behind the camera says: “Unbelievable!”
Another record lasts for 15 seconds. The officer who films asks a half-naked person:
“What do you want to say to me, convict Mgoyan? Do you want to apologize?”
The prisoner, facing the camera, is silent. There are voices behind the camera:
“Well, will it be long? Why should we beg him? Turn the camera off!”
As Olga Bobrova, the journalist of Novaya Gazeta commented, the prisoner of IR-1 Revaz Mgoyan is among those who appealed to the Public Verdict Foundation. In April 2017, the investigator refused to open a criminal case against Mgoyan’s torturers after Mgoyan submitted a complaint.
As for Makarov, in December 2017 he was transferred to another colony, IK-8 in the same city of Yaroslavl. As the Public Verdict Foundation found out, the staff of the IK-8 immediately began beating Makarov. To stop the torture, when FSIN officers tried to dip his head into the toilet (one of the methods of humiliation in the prison subculture), Makarov deliberately hit his head. No investigation was carried out, the colony administration tried in every possible way to hide information about what happened. Later it became known that the SK instituted a criminal case of torture at IK-8.
On July 23, the same day when Novaya Gazeta published new videos, Anatoly Rudyi, First Deputy Head of FSIN, stated to the press that Makarov himself tried to provoke FSIN officers to use force. Three days later Sergey Baburkin, human rights Ombudsman of the Yaroslavl Region, reported that Makarov, in an appeal to him, expressed his fears that after the publication of the video of torture his “suicide” could be staged. The threat was considered real, and on September 11, Makarov was provided with state protection. As Eldar Luzin, Makarov’s new lawyer, explained, this simply means that Makarov would be kept in the punishment cell SHIZO to protect him from other inmates.
In the meantime, on July 31, 2018, FSIN Deputy Director Valery Maksimenko apologized to Makarov on the air of Moscow radio station “Govorit Moskva“: “At first, I would like to apologize to citizen Makarov, to his relatives and friends, to apologize for what our employees, even former ones, did . I am ashamed of these employees.” He promised that all participants in the beating of Makarov would be dismissed.
On September 19, 2018, the Zavolzhsky District Court of Yaroslavl examined Makarov’s appeal for recounting his imprisonment term in accordance with the current legislation. After recounting, the court ruled that he should be freed on October 6, and not October 22.
It’s hard to predict how the investigation of the arrested FSIN officers will proceed and how they will be tried. In principle, they should be charged with part 3 of Article 286 of the Russian Criminal Code, “abuse of official power with the use of violence and special means.“ This crime is punished by imprisonment from three to ten years. But taking into consideration the mentality of the investigators, the corruption of the courts, and the existing practice to give defendants from penitentiary systems lenient sentences, the expectations of justice are very low.
Alexander Podrabinek, Russian long-time human rights activist and former Soviet political dissident, commented:
Cases like in Yaroslavl happen every day all over the country. There are dozens and hundreds of them daily, this is not a figure of speech or exaggeration. Beatings and torture of prisoners begin immediately after people are detained by the police, in the departments of the Investigation Committee, in the FSB, and are continued in investigation prisons, transit prisons and in labor camps. It’s terrible to say, but this is the daily life of the camp world. And it was always this way in our country, but not always to the same extent.
As a result of public attention to the case, on July 24, 2018, the head of FSIN Gennady Kornienko gave instructions to create commissions in the regions to consider applications about facts of torture. As already mentioned Anatoly Rudyi, FSIN First Deputy Head reported to the Presidential Council on Human Rights, the results of a total check of the FSIN system would be ready on October 1, 2018. On September 3, Valery Maksimenko, another FSIN Deputy Head, stated that so far, the commissions found 42 cases of violations of law by FSIN officers and all materials had been handed over to investigators.
The Yaroslavl case also attracted international attention. On July 26, 2018, questions at the meeting of the UN Committee against Torture by Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, were very uncomfortable for the Russian delegation. The transcript of the meeting states:
There was reliable information that torture was practiced widely in the country, indicating the need for a robust criminalization of torture, the Co-Rapporteur noted. Torture and ill-treatment were allegedly used to extract confessions. Reminding of a recent brutal video [Modvig means the first video — V. B.] showing Russian guards beating a prisoner, Mr. Modvig underlined that questions about safety inside of the country’s justice system had again emerged. Who was investigating that case and when would it be concluded? Could the delegation comment on the fact that the lawyer of the victim had allegedly fled the country? What was the State party doing to ensure her safety?
The answer of Mikhail Galperin, head of the Russian delegation, had little to do with Russian reality:
Mikhail Galperin, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, agreed that a clear signal should be sent that torture was not acceptable. The investigation of the incident of beating of a prisoner in the province of Yaroslav[l] would send a very clear signal that torture was unacceptable. The penitentiary services were working daily to inform the authorities about that incident. All responsible parties had been arrested. The video surveillance system had demonstrated its effectiveness in identifying the responsible individuals. The lawyer of inmate Makarov had left the country; the authorities did not know why she had left. If she felt threatened, she would receive all protection measures. The authorities had not received any communication from the lawyer.
In fact, on September 6, 2018, the SK refused to provide Makarov’s lawyer Biryukova and her daughter with state protection because “threats were made to her not personally.” Despite this, on September 13, Biryukova and her daughter returned to Russia. She stated to the press: “When it is necessary to protect people who are helping to solve crimes, this institution [of state protection] does not work.” She added that this can be explained by the fact that the accused in the criminal case are employees of the penitentiary system. A month later, on October 10, the General Prosecutor’s Office instructed the FSB to check the Investigation Committee’s refusal to provide the lawyer Irina Biryukova and her daughter with state protection.
Meanwhile, Galperin continued:
The investigative authorities had at their disposal all opportunities for the investigation of acts of torture. The Russian Federation actively cooperated with the European Committee against Torture and there was unimpeded access to all detention facilities, including by the Ombudsperson’s Office. The country had received 27 visits from the European Committee against Torture. The authorities did not prevent the publishing of the reports of the European Committee against Torture.
The authorities treated matters of compensation to victims of torture very seriously. They were trying to develop a system of comprehensive payment of compensation through the preparation of a relevant draft law.
According to the transcript, Mr. Modvig was not impressed by Galperin’s statement:
Jens Modvig […] disagreed that the video recording of the beating of a prisoner in the province of Yaroslav[l] by prison guards had shown effectiveness of video surveillance in prisons because the incident had taken place a year ago. In fact, the case showed that the authorities had not immediately reacted to the ill-treatment. Mr. Modvig also expressed disappointment that the delegation was repeating replies from the periodic report.
There was a clear need for the State party to reform its legal criminalization of torture. Were those who investigated prisoners’ complaints independent from the penitentiary system? How many injuries on prisoners had penitentiary medical doctors identified? Who was involved in the verification procedure?
If even on the international level the Russian officials were so untruthful, it’s impossible to expect that on the internal Russian level serious measures against the use of torture in the penitentiary system will be taken. In 2017, 227 FSIN’s employees were convicted for service crimes, but nothing has changed.
On September 21, 2018, the lawyer of the Public Verdict Foundation Biryukova reported that six criminal cases have been instituted on the beatings of prisoners in Yaroslavl colonies No. 1 and No. 8. Five prisoners have been declared the victims: Stepan Nouzhdin, Yevgeny Makarov, Artur Gukosyan, Tarnovsky and Nikolayev, whose first names are not specified. According to Biryukova, the number of victims in the near future may increase. She said: “Criminal cases have been instituted for each victim, and for Yevgeny Makarov, even two cases were initiated, for the beatings in July 1 in IK-1 and in December in IK-8.”
On October 2, 2018 morning, at 9 am 25-year-old Yevgeny Makarov went out of the gates of the Yaroslavl colony IK-8, where he spent the last more than two months in a cage. His mother, his former fellow prisoner and mentor Ruslan Vakhapov (he has also testified about torture in IK-8 after his release in June 2018), Vakhapov’s wife, a group of journalists and Makarov’s lawyer Eldar Luzin from the association “People’s Verdict” were waiting for Makarov. As for Vakhapov, in 2012 he was sentenced to five and a half years in a correction colony on an absurd, hastily concocted charge of sexual abuse against minors– a truck driver, he urinated on the side of the road and accidentally hit the eyes of children. During imprisonment, Vakhapov did not cave in, he wrote complaints to all authorities, and was beaten every time when he complained. At some point Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, convicted for participation in a demonstration in Moscow against Putin in 2012 (the so-called “Bolotnoe Case”) was put in the same colony with Vakhapov and Makarov, and all three fought the terror tactics of the colony administration.
Makarov’s lawyer Luzin expressed his concern about Makarov’s safety. Until the day of release, the duty to provide state protection to Makarov was assigned to the head of the colony IK-8. There is no information how Makarov will be protected after his release. The situation is aggravated by the fact that Makarov has been assigned to three years of supervision, i.e. all this time he will be obliged to stay at the place of registration after ten o’clock in the evening.
Meanwhile, six of the eighteen participants in Makarov’s torture have still not been charged.
In related news:
On September 20, 2018, a group of Russian activists created a site http://bewareofthem.org/dossierru/securru/policeisky_bespredel/ which will record acts of police brutality during peaceful demonstrations and identify sadistic police and Rosguard officers. Photos of the most outrageous acts of police and Rosguard officers during the demonstration against the new pension policy on September 9, 2018 were posted.
On October 6, 2018, the 145th day of his hunger strike, the political prisoner Oleg Sentsov stopped the strike. Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director sentenced to 20 years of strict regime in the fabricated “Case of the Crimean Terrorists”, was demanding freedom for all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. On October 5, Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, handed Sentsov’s handwritten statement over to the press:
In connection with the critical state of my health, as well as the pathological changes in the internal organs that have begun, in the very near future I am scheduled for enforced feeding. My opinion is no longer taken [by the FSIN authorities] into account. . . .In these conditions, I have to stop my hunger strike from tomorrow, that is, from 6.10.18.
145 days of struggle, minus 20 kg of weight, plus an exhausted organism, but the goal has never been achieved. I am grateful to everyone who supported me, and I apologize to those whom I have failed …
Glory to Ukraine!
Oleg Sentsov. Oct 5, 18
Valery Maksimenko, FSIN’s deputy director, commented that the Ukrainian film director “chose life” and currently “the best Moscow nutritionists” have developed a special diet for him.
On October 7, 2018 Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, dedicated the every-year city festival Nuit Blanch Paris to Oleg Sentsov. On September 24, Sentsov, while he was on a hunger strike, was announced as a honorary citizen of Paris.
The same day the European Union’s diplomatic service issued a statement on Sentsov that concludes: “The European Union stands in solidarity with Oleg Sentsov and, in addition to swift and appropriate medical treatment, expects his immediate release, along with all illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and on the Crimean Peninsula. International human rights standards on the peninsula must be upheld.”
Meanwhile, on the evening of October 6, 2018 a riot of prisoners broke out in the Omsk colony IK-6 (Siberia) where for the first time convicted. The local UFSIN is presenting it as a local conflict between “negative persons” and “positive persons”, that is, those who do not work for the administration of the colony, with those who cooperate with the jailers and participate in torture.
The next day, riot police entered the colony. The prisoners put a white sheet with the word “Save us” from the window of the building. Shots were heard from the territory of the colony. The relatives of the convicts who gathered near the IK-6 walls were detained by the police. Numerous policemen, one after the other, took the prisoners out of the gates of the IK-6. Their relatives and lawyers were not told where they were taken. There is information that most of them were sent to IK-7, which is considered among prisoners to be a torture facility.
Petenev, head of the Omsk Region UFSIN, ordered to introduce special conditions in the IK-6, that is, prisoners’ rights to buy food and basic necessities were suspended for an indefinite period, family visits, receiving packages and remittances were also prohibited. Prisoners cannot watch TV and listen to the radio, keep books, paper and pens.
Prisoners are tortured throughout the whole FSIN system. Here are new reports on October 15, 2018 from the historic Vladimir Prison:
Tatiana Goncharova, the sister of the convict Dmitry Goncharov:
From March 2017 to February 2018, my brother was beaten every day. He said that they attached wires to his eye lids and ordered him to sign something. They told him not to open his eyes, and every time when he tried to open his eyes, there was an electric shock. He could not read what he was forced to sign, but he did not sign. In the medical card, which I was unofficially shown at the prosecutor’s office and which was not given to me, because I still did not receive power of attorney from my brother, hematomas on the face and abrasions of both eyelids were described.
Former prisoner Artur Akopyan:
You don’t need a reason for beatings, they can simply provoke you. […] People disappeared frequently, and in half an hour you call the guard and ask him [about the disappeared cellmate], and he answers: “I don’t know.” Then you and your cellmates start making noises, knocking on the door, the other prisoners hear and start making noise, and when the noise is so loud that it almost could be heard in the city, they come running and say that the missing prisoner is here, they just are talking to him. But from the conversation the prisoner comes blue of beating. […]
There are no medical drugs in the prison, they are only in the hospital in the [nearby] Colony IK-3. From there, prisoners who had been raped came most often. Of course, people [in Vladimir Prison] refuse to be medically treated, just not to go there. Nothing will save you from rape, just hang yourself or cut your veins. […]
I have not complained to anyone — well, to whom? I’m ready to talk about it, but whom will it help? There are already six corpses [in Vladimir Prison], I can add nothing. People were driven to suicide, this is a fact. […]
Former prisoner Dashkyn Agaev:
On the evening of August 29, 2015, I was sent to the Vladimir Central Prison. […] I was met by prison officers, some of them were wearing masks. They took me inside, took things away, stripped me, and the guards who were wearing masks started beating me, I don’t know why. But then I realized that they don’t need a reason, they start beating simply if they don’t like your face. They beat in your kidneys, on the legs, on the head with bottles. […]
On February 2, 2018, I was beaten [for the third time] after I spent two months in a punishment cell. When the guards came to search my cell, they ordered me to undress to the pants. Then they told me to take off my underwear — with the video camera turned on. I said that I would not do this because there was a woman nurse there, and our customs do not allow us to undress in front of a woman if this is not your wife [Agaev is a Muslim – V. B.]. I lowered my underwear a little bit and then raised it again. They got angry and tore off my underwear. They have some internal customs that they need to undress everyone […] They have nothing human, they are animals. They say that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin gave an order to beat prisoners.