Lev Ponomarev and Dmitry Piskunov on torture in Russia in the 21st century

posted 6 May 2018, 09:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 May 2018, 09:55 ]
17 April 2018

Lev Ponomarev (For Human Rights) and Dmitry Piskunov (Committee Against Torture) talk to Maryana Torochneshnikova of Radio Svoboda [extract]

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda] 

How to secure the punishment of police officers who torture detainees?
• Vladimir Putin says that he’s building a state based on the rule of law in Russia, but in reality he refutes these allegations of torture
• According to human rights defenders, every fifth inhabitant of the country has been tortured or ill-treated by police officers or members of the security services
• Torture is very difficult to prove, and such criminal cases rarely go to trial or sentencing
• The courts, police and investigative organs in Russia are closely connected with one another, which is why it is so difficult for people to achieve justice
• The situation will not change if there is no peaceful civil resistance against torture in the country

Maryana Torochneshnikova: Reports of torture in police stations and prisons are no longer sensational for Russia. According to human rights defenders, every fifth citizen in the country has been tortured or ill-treated by law enforcement officers or members of the security services. You hear lawyers saying that the police frequently commit violations or even crimes when trying to extract confessions from detainees. That’s St Petersburg in the 21st Century […] Accurate statistics on torture and beatings in Russian law enforcement agencies are not being gathered. You can get some idea of the prevalence of this phenomenon from the report by the Russian Federation 2012-16 for the UN’s Committee against Torture. For example, it indicates that in 2013-15, human rights organisations handed over to official authorities details of around 1,929 cases of violence and torture, and all were considered to be without basis.

How to stop violence and torture in police stations and other law enforcement agencies? We asked Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the movement For Human Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Dmitry Piskunov, an inspector for the NGO Committee Against Torture and a member of the Public Monitoring Committee of Moscow.

The comments by the Russian authorities on the 1,929 cases of violence and torture are worth noting: “An analysis of such inspections testifies to the absence, on the part of officials from special institutions and police stations, of deliberate acts that infringe the rights and freedoms of citizens held within them.”

Lev Ponomarev: The statement that there was not one proven incident is an obvious lie. On the other hand, nothing was proven to be true, as no investigation was conducted or it has been delayed. Human rights defenders complain, they refuse to open a criminal case, human rights defenders complain, they refuse again, they complain again …

Dmitry Piskunov: And this can be never ending. We had more than 30 such complaints and refusals. As for the period 2013-15, our organisations had more than ten confirmed cases of abuse of authority involving the use of physical force, so to say that not one case was confirmed is strange at the very least.

Maryana Torochneshnikova: The Committee Against Torture likes to refer to research from Russian academics who have conducted sociological surveys and found that every fifth Russian citizen has been subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman treatment by government officials. So is the situation really that bad?

Dmitry Piskunov: Torture, of course, is common, in the sense that is enshrined in international law. That is, it must be a representative of state authority who uses physical force unlawfully. In addition, the use of torture must have a purpose: punishment, obtaining a confession …

Maryana Torochneshnikova: Torture is obviously understood not only as direct physical violence, but also degrading treatment when a person is being detained: not allowing someone to go to the toilet, for example. [...] 

Lev Ponomarev: This happens very often. A cramped detention cell, people not being fed, and so on. But this isn’t every fifth detainee, it is every detainee. […]

Translated by Nathalie Corbett