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Natalia Taubina on "life after torture" - the lives of those who have survived violence and torture by police [Radio Svoboda]

posted 1 May 2017, 05:34 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 May 2017, 06:57 ]
19 April 2017

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


“Life after torture” is the name of a new project by the Public Verdict Foundation telling the stories of people who have survived violence and come up against the injustices of the state system. Maryana Torocheshnikova talks about these people and the project with guests in the Radio Svoboda studio: director of the Public Verdict Foundation Natalia Taubina and one of the creators of the project “Life after Torture”, film director Ksenia Gagai.

Police detained Mardiros Demerchyan at a construction site on 11th June 2013 when he demanded that his wages be paid. Instead of this he was accused of the theft of two metres of cabling. Beatings, torture and abuse, incompatible with any notion of humanity, followed for nearly two days. Demerchyan’s complaint about the torture was turned into a criminal case against him. He was charged with making a false accusation against the police and the case went to court. [...] The story of Mardiros Demerchyan is quite well known in Russia, thanks to the staff of Public Verdict Foundation. Demerchyan took part in the Olympic construction work in Sochi, where all the events in question took place, and, since the charges were brought in 2013, the case has continued to this day.

Do I properly understand that the heroes of your project, “Life After Torture,” are the people who, having survived suffering and humiliation, have not only failed to find the truth, but continue to be trapped inside the revolving millstones of the Russian justice system?

Natalya Taubina
: Yes, of course! The idea behind the project is that the phenomenon of torture in our country is not just something that happens in police stations or in prisons, it is also how people go on to live with this experience of humiliation, suffering, with the awareness that state bodies that are endowed with authority, live on our taxes and are called to defend and protect public order, exceed their powers and use illegal force.

And what follows such abuses can be quite complicated, and in a number of cases it is practically impossible for victims to achieve justice, restore their good name, and return to the normal life they led before they found themselves in the police station. With this project we want to show that torture – it’s not just the act of torture itself, but it is also the rather complicated and difficult life after torture, which involves not just the victim themselves, but also those closest to them and members of their families. […]

Mariana Torocheshnikova: How willing are journalists, and society, to address this issue?

Natalia Taubina: This is a very difficult question, and it’s always more pleasant to watch something positive: kittens, or maybe a complex story that ends in a victory, in something positive. But watching a tragedy, watching people endure torture day after day, is rather hard. It demands courage to take oneself in hand and start watching, to comprehend and reflect on this subject, and even more to try to do something about it.

With this project we want to initiate a dialogue, some recognition of the problem. After all, we still associate torture with some kind of medieval horror, with the guillotine, with quartering; if we talk about the here and now, then people don’t really understand what torture means, what now constitutes the guillotine. […] 

It’s quite difficult for us to work with official data because until now, in spite of the various international commitments we’ve signed up to, torture has not been criminalised in our Criminal Code. There is a definition, but according to Article 117 torture doesn’t relate to crimes by officials, but to torment inflicted, some crime committed, by one private citizen against another. Therefore it can’t possibly be applied to the police.

As a result, we have no official statistics on torture. In practically all the cases we work on, where there is illegal violence by law enforcement officers, the relevant article of the Criminal Code is Article 286 (Section 3): “Exceeding official powers using violence and special means”, and a number of aggravating circumstances are listed. The Ministry of Justice has statistics for this Article - for example, how many such crimes have been committed by police officers, how many were committed in prisons and isolation cells – but we can’t get hold of them. Teachers in government high schools also fall under this article if they use illegal violence against pupils.

If we only work using official data, then, we can’t talk about the scale of this problem. We can only proceed on the basis of reports and complaints brought to us by the public. We aren’t seeing a decrease in the number of complaints; we don't see, for example, that ‘the little elephant’ [a form of torture where a gas mask is fitted to the victim’s head and access to air is closed off, or liquid poured in -  trans.] or electroshock torture have become things of the past and are no longer used by law enforcement officers.

Unfortunately we continue to receive complaints that people have been tortured in police stations using electroshock devices, or that nodes were attached and electric current passed through a person’s body in an attempt to get testimony out of them.

Perhaps the worst case of this type came at the beginning of last year. Marina Ruzaeva, from Irkutsk, was involved in a case as a witness, and police came and asked her to go to the police station to give testimony. She didn’t refuse, she went voluntarily, ready to tell what she knew. Almost as soon as she arrived at the police station, they began not to talk to her but to torture her. Why use violence if a person is ready to tell everything off their own bat? […]

Translated by Anna Bowles and Frances Robson