Russia: New report exposes torture in police detention

The Russian government is failing to stop the torture of suspects in police detention in Russia, said Amnesty International today (22 Nov), as it published a new report on how law-enforcement and other officials in Russia regularly subject detainees to severe beatings, rape and electro-shock torture in an effort to extract “confessions” out of suspects.

In 2005 Russian non-governmental organisations documented more than 100 cases of torture in 11 of Russia's 89 regions alone. These regions did not include the North Caucasus (Chechnya etc), where the incidence of torture is believed to be far higher.

In some cases convicted prisoners have even been used by state investigators to beat and rape newly-held suspects in return for visits from relatives or early release on parole.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“We are hearing horrendous reports of prisoners being tortured in police detention in Russia - beatings with fists, plastic bottles full of water, books, truncheons and poles, of suffocation, the use of electroshocks and of organised rape.

“It’s a litany of horror and has no place in any decent justice system.”

Amnesty International’s report describes how state investigators will sometimes prevent suspects from seeing a lawyer by placing them in “quarantine”, meaning transferring them to inaccessible parts of the justice system. These include “prison colonies”, such as the one in Yekaterinburg, in the Sverdlovsk region in central Russia.

Between 2004-6 at least 30 male suspects were reportedly systematically tortured in the punishment block of the Yekaterinburg colony. Detainees, pressured into signing “confessions”, were threatened with beatings, rape, or being killed. Convicted prisoners were given access to suspects’ cells at any hour of the day or night and were evidently aware of the details of their cases. Detainees were beaten by groups of up to six convicts, typically with fists, feet, rolled-up wet rags, truncheons and poles. Some victims have described a room where suspects were allegedly raped - a small room with a metal table, fixed to the floor, and straps to secure the victims’ wrists and ankles.

Amnesty International, which spent six days investigating torture allegations in Yekaterinburg, has seen evidence of broken fingers, fractured elbows, broken legs, and photographs of extensive grazing, cuts and bruising on detainees’ backs, chests, upper arms, ankles, eyes and feet, which the bearers say were all inflicted on them by convicts there. Amnesty International delegates have also seen the scars made by razor slashes that one detainee inflicted on his own stomach in an unsuccessful effort to be hospitalised and escape further brutality.

Tim Hancock added:

“By moving suspects around Russia’s vast justice system it appears that state investigators have attempted to hide gross acts of torture. Rather than face up to it, though, the Russian authorities prefer to block access for independent monitors and prevent publication of expert reports.”

Under the terms of a European human rights agreement, the expert body the Committee to Prevent Torture has visited Russia 13 times since 1998, but Russia has repeatedly refused to let it publish its reports (only one of 13 has been published). Russia is the only European country to object to these reports being published. Meanwhile, last month Russia failed to agree terms for a UN torture expert visit, objecting to the fact that the expert wished to make unannounced visits and hold private meetings with detainees.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s report shows how pressures on police officers to "solve" crimes has led to a focus on extracting "confessions".

According to numerous testimonies gathered by Amnesty International, a chain of procedural abuse leads to physical abuse - lawyers are not present during questioning of suspects in detention, relatives are not informed of their detention, suspects are tortured by police officers or left at the mercy of convicts who do the torturing for the police.

Moreover, Russia’s police officers seem unaware of the need to follow even basic Russian criminal code guidelines. One senior police officer told Amnesty International that the concept of a right to legal assistance was too difficult for police officers to memorise or apply in practice.

Amnesty International is calling for the Russian government protect the rights of those in detention to be free from torture or other ill-treatment, including by ensuring access to legal counsel at all stages of the criminal investigation, access to a doctor of their choice, for relatives to be notified of the detention, and for detainees to be brought promptly before a judge.

The human rights organisation is also calling on the Russian authorities to immediately abolish the practice of holding suspects in places where they are in contact with convicted prisoners and to fully cooperate with monitoring bodies over visits and report publications.

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