Sergei Nikitin: April 2019 - the application of anti-extremism legislation in Russia; and violations of human rights in a Sverdlovsk prison colony

posted 6 May 2019, 11:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:08 by Translation Service ]
6 May 2019

In these monthly blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

Below is an adaptation of an original text by the Sova Centre, headed by  Aleksandr Verkhovsky, on the official statistics from the judicial department of the Supreme Court related to the fight against terrorism in 2018.

In April 2019, the website of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation published statistical data about the activities of the Russian courts and the state of criminal convictions in 2018.

According to the department’s data, under the relevant articles, 731 people were sentenced in 2018, compared with 785 in 2017, that is 7% less than a year earlier.

In the words of the director of the Sova Centre, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, there are positive tendencies within the statistics. The main one was the fall in the total number of criminal sentences brought under articles of anti-extremism legislation regarding public statements.  “This concerns not only Article 282, but also Article 280 – the second most frequently used – and others. It’s possible that policy in this area is becoming more reasonable,” he told Novaya gazeta. The second tendency relates to the two most common articles of the Administrative Code – regarding symbols and distribution of banned materials – “the increase in the number of sentences is very small compared to previous years.”

Meanwhile, said Verkhovsky, with regard to Article 280 there was a noticeable reduction only in the first half of the year, the second half almost completely compensated for the fall in figures. He explained this as follows: “There were suspicions, that amid talk of decriminalisation of Article 282, cases would be reclassified under Article 280, since the boundaries between them were now blurred. It’s possible that is what is happening now.” Verkhovsky is worried by a rise in convictions under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code – participation in banned extremist organisations, which he cannot yet explain, and under Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code – for public incitement - or justification- of terrorism. “In practice, we don’t see any increase in terrorist agitation. This is the result of the FSB, rather than any real activity”, stressed Verkhovsky.

One nuance, he pointed out, is the increase in number of criminal cases on charges of propaganda or justification of terrorism against people detained or already in prison. Verkhovsky is doubtful about the legality of these charges: in prison, it is easy to fabricate evidence, and the question remains: “since it is not possible to incite anyone to terrorism except one’s cellmates in prison, it’s debatable that this could be considered public incitement.”

For more information see: 'Официальная статистика Судебного департамента Верховного суда в сфере борьбы с экстремизмом за 2018 год,' Sova Centre, 19 April 2019

Pictured: Aleksandr Verkhovsky

Translated by Mercedes Malcomson

Below is an adaptation of an orginal text by Aleksei Sokolov, executive director of the Inter-regional Human Rights Group, entitled: 'Systematic violation of human rights in Prison Colony IK-16 in Sverdlovsk region, in the Urals':

Three human rights activists from the Urals – the lawyers Roman Kachanov and Aleksei Sokolov and the expert Yana Gelmel from Ekaterinburg - have carried out extensive work to establish the presence of systemic bullying in this women’s prison.

The activists found that authorities in the colony devised and implemented a system of torture or degrading treatment and punishment for minor infractions or refusal to work for the authorities, i.e. to be a source of information for them.

The activists questioned five women who had served time in the prison colony, and two employees.

During the interview, they were given evidence supporting previously obtained information about torture. Additionally it was found that jailers had demanded that women write “statements of refusal to meet with the Public Oversight Commission”.

On 20 February 2019, human rights activists met with the deputy head of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service in the Sverdlovsk Region, A.V. Shek. He promised unrestricted access and confidential meetings with the women prisoners we summoned.

On 22 February 2019, Roman Kachanov, Aleksei Sokolov and Yana Gelmel interviewed nine prisoners. In total, fourteen prisoners and two employees of !K-16 were interviewed, and they confirmed that the colony practised torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, specifically:

Prisoners’ personal belongings are illegally confiscated: their towel, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, personal hygiene items and aluminium mug. The toothpaste, toothbrush and soap are returned to them only after they are locked up for the night, and after reveille, for ten minutes. Letter-writing paper and stamps are not issued.

While in isolation cells, female prisoners are prohibited from sitting on a stool. Women have to stand all day, which causes terrible pain, psychological and physical suffering. They can sit down only during meals: for ten minutes at breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the women interviewed said that an attempt to sit down could result in physical punishment.

IK-16 does not provide full medical care. Prisoners are not given medical examinations. According to those interviewed, all the women who died suffered pain before their deaths, but the colony did not receive help from doctors.

As ‘punishment’, prison staff may block access to the room where prisoners’ food is kept. There is a food room in each sector of the prison. The length of this punishment depends on the wishes of the prison workers and lasts from one to four days.

IK-16 has an established system of ‘punishment’ whereby prisoners are forbidden from making telephone calls to their children, spouse, parents or other relatives.

IK-16 deploys the dragging around of bags of manure as a system of group ‘punishment’. Regardless of their age, female prisoners bag up manure near the pigsty/barn, which is located in the production area, and carry it themselves to the living area, after which they spread it around in the living area, on the beds, regardless of the fact that the beds are being filled with manure. The manure dragging process lasts from eight to twelve hours a day.

Convicts are obliged to constantly, literally, yell, often In chorus, “Hello” – including by the officers who they see in the course of the day and from afar (for example, at a distance of 100-200 metres).

After activists from the Interregional Centre for Human Rights took the above information to  the General Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service in the Sverdlovsk Region, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sverdlovsk Region and the Investigation Department of the Russian State Investigative Committee in the Sverdlovsk Region, the most severe psychological pressure was applied to the prisoners they had interviewed, by various means.

Then, on 6 March 2019, the human rights activists held a press conference in Ekaterinburg, talking about torture in the prison colony.

A week after the press conference, persons unknown broke the windows of the car in which the lawyers from the Interregional Centre for Human Rights were intending to travel to Colony IK-16.

In April the human rights activists began to be refused meetings with prisoners at the colony, because the prisoners themselves did not want such meetings.

For more information see: Aleksei Sokolov, 'Аналитическая справка по итогам проведения общественного расследования по фактам системного нарушения прав человека в ФКУ ИК-16 ГУФСИН России по Свердловской области,' Pravozashchitniki Urala, 15 April 2019

Pictured: Aleksei Sokolov

Translated by Anna Bowles