The ‘torture scandal’, that has escalated in July 2018, attracted the public attention to the wretched tradition existing in the Russian penitentiary system – use of violence against inmates. The politicians have again started discussing the long overdue reform of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) of Russia. But is it possible to change the attitude of the prison personnel to detainees with the current FPS management? Human rights activists have shared with The CrimeRussia their vision of potential staff purges in the FPS and effectiveness of the forthcoming reforms.
The Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. Its reputation never was perfect. In the period of 1930–1960, its predecessor was called GULAG; according to the official data, some 1.6 million prisoners died there in that period.
During the rule of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the treatment of inmates became not that harsh – but the general attitude to them hasn't changed significantly. In recent years, the FPS was repeatedly mentioned in relation to violations of convicts' rights. In Western countries, the agency is inseparably associated with the name of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. However, despite numerous episodes involving tortures, mysterious deaths, and abuses of power, the FPS remained a stronghold resistant against all efforts of human rights activists. Nominally, officials of the penal and correctional system were punished, criminal cases instituted, and malefactors fired of even prosecuted – but that was it. According to The CrimeRussia source, who used to work for several years in the General Penitentiary Administration of the Ministry of Justice (predecessor of the FPS up until 2003), an unofficial conspiracy of silence existing in the system and loyalty of other enforcement agencies make it a closed universe.
The situation changed after the publication of a video showing cruel beating of an inmate by almost two dozen correctional officers in a Yaroslavl penal colony. The general public and politicians were shocked – the victim was beaten painstakingly and professionally: not out of anger but out of duty. Then it became known that the video was recorded a year ago and Rodion Svirsky, Investigator of the Investigations Department in the Zavolzhsky District of Yaroslavl of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), had examined it in the course of a pre-investigation probe and hasn’t identified any violations in the actions of the prison guards, thus, officially endorsing the tortures. It turned out that in the past, Svirsky has issued plenty of refusals to institute criminal proceedings over abuses of power committed by FPS officers.
A video recorded by the camera attached to the chest of an officer of the Penal Colony № 1 of Yaroslavl and showing the beating of inmate Evgeny Makarov has been distributed on July 20, 2018 by Public Verdict Foundation and Novaya Gazeta newspaper. The 10-minute video shows 18 colony officers beating in turns the inmate senseless with batons and fists and then pouring water on him from a bucket. After the publication, the ICR has instituted a criminal case for exceedance of official powers with use of violence. Later Public Verdict Foundation and Novaya Gazeta newspaper have published another video also showing the beating of inmates in the Penal Colony № 1. The correctional officers, including those filmed in the first video, are lined along the walls and beat passing by inmates with hands and batons. The both cases have been merged together. To the moment, 12 already dismissed officers of the Penal Colony № 1 have been charged in the torture case, including Ivan Kalashov, Head of the Disciplinary Department, who is the only suspect released under home arrest for health reasons. In September, two more victims have been added to the criminal case in addition to Makarov and Nikolaev – Tarnovsky and Gukosyan, inmates of the Penal Colony № 1.
The video and criminal case instituted by the ICR on the day of its publication have caused a massive public outcry – the FPS management initiated audits of all its regional administrations by regional departmental commissions and in most high-profile cases – by commissions dispatched by the Central Headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service. The FPS management have resolutely condemned the actions of its officers and officially apologized to the battered inmate for their actions. Concurrently, human rights activists and inmates suffering from tortures have also intensified their efforts – dozens of reports about abuses of prisoners and incitements to suicide were published in the media on a daily basis. ‘Torture chambers' were found in other regions as well, people involved in high-profile cases, including Evgeny Urlashov, ex-Mayor of Yaroslavl, and ex-Senator Konstantin Tsybko, started openly speaking about abuses of convicts. By the way, according to The CrimeRussia source, prison administrations normally prefer not to touch most prominent inmates because of their publicity and strong legal support – and put pressure on them using perfectly legal methods: punitive confinements and cell-type rooms. For instance, this is currently happening with Zaur Dadaev convicted for the murder of Boris Nemtsov and other participants of that high-profile case.
The United Nations also paid attention to the ‘torture scandal' – in August, the UN Committee Against Torture has again urged Russia to criminalize torture. On September 10, 2018, at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Committee, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke about the situation in Russian penitentiary institutions and required to carry out an independent probe into the reports of tortures in the Penal Colony № 1 of Yaroslavl and other correctional institutions. She has noted inter alia that the ‘torture scandal’ hasn’t gone unnoticed in Russia and evoked a proper response of the national authorities.
The speech of Valentina Matvienko, Speaker of the Council of the Federation, at a specially convened press conference was the peak of the wave of public indignation. According to her own words, Matvienko was shocked by the video. Another height of that wave was the order of Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika to carry out a prosecutor's revision of all refusals to initiate criminal proceedings issued by investigative authorities in the recent years after pre-investigation probes into prohibited treatment techniques.
On July 27, 2018, the Speaker of the Council of the Federation has again noted the pressing need to reform the FPS by dividing the federal service into two parts in order to separate the control and protection functions from the rehabilitation and socialization of inmates. According to Matvienko, similarly with many European countries, the rehabilitation of inmates must be entrusted in Russia to a civil service.
In fact, the idea to reform the FPS is not new; according to RBK sources, its project has been discussed in the State-Legal Directorate of the Presidential Executive Office for more than year already.
The project stipulates the division of the FPS into a civil and enforcement structures. A federal agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice shall be responsible for the economy and rehabilitation of convicts, while the National Guard of Russia shall undertake the protection functions and assume the special divisions of the FPS. The operative powers of the FPS should be transferred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). According to human rights activist Vladimir Osechkin, many FPS officers would appreciate such reforms because salaries and bonuses at the MIA are much higher.
It was reported that the interdepartmental workgroup involving representatives of the Presidential Executive Office, MIA, Federal Security Service (FSB), and Ministry of Justice – but not the FPS – has been developing two reform scenarios. According to the first scenario, it is planned to disband the Administration of Internal Security and reduce the operative component of the FSP activities by transferring these functions to the FSB and MIA – and leave the rest without changes. According to the second scenario, the protection and convoy functions should be assigned to the National Guard of Russia; this is similar to the system existing in the USSR where penal colonies were guarded by internal military forces of the MIA. In fact, the second scenario is not very likely because it contradicts the obligations undertaken by Russia at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: FPS has to be subordinate to the Ministry of Justice.
The initiative caused a mixed reaction among the Russian human right activists; most of them don’t like the idea to merge the FPS with the MIA. Some experts note though that under the rule of Vladimir Kolokoltsev, current Minister of Internal Affairs, the level of violence in the police has been reduced, while police commanders started apologizing for unlawful actions of their subordinates and firing direct superiors of officers involved in corruption and tortures.
However, the majority of the people believe that such a minor reform won’t change the general situation. For instance, Olga Shepeleva, expert of the Center for Strategic Research, considers jail congestion the main problem of the Russian penitentiary system; it is caused by a large number of real prison terms imposed by courts. Therefore, she believes that the FPS reform requires some revision of the Criminal Code. Rights activist Olga Romanova (Rus’ Sidyashaya (Incarcerated Russia)) believes that the recent experience of Ukraine would be beneficial, except for some mistakes, for Russia. Ukraine has introduced a probation system: a person, who has committed a crime by negligence or at a young age, is sentenced to a real term to be served not in jail, but in a probation center where psychologists, teachers, and labor and family experts work with him/her. If the person does not commit any wrongdoings within the term imposed by the court (normally 2–3 years), the conviction is erased from the records. Persons who don’t comply with the probation conditions are transferred to a regular prison.
Human rights activist Olga Romanova
Rights activist Petr Kur’yanov believes that “the barrack–camp penal system must be completely changed because it is the basis for mechanisms used to manage and control criminal elements constituting the majority in penitentiary institutions where more than hundred people are kept in a single barrack”.
According to Kur’yanov, the penal colony administration has no disciplinary techniques aside from making the inmates scared to violate the internal rules of conduct that are outright humiliating in penal colonies.
Kur’yanov describes the problem as follows: “Reprimands, punitive confinements, penalties, risk not to be released on parole – all these leverages don’t work at all! In the existing barrack–camp system, the only real mechanism maintaining the order is the threat of physical violence. The civil society has to understand this and reject the barrack–camp penal system – otherwise, violence won’t be eliminated in prisons. Why reinvent the wheel? The civilized countries keep inmates in solitary cells. Barracks and camps are the legacy of concentration camps and GULAG that were ideal for enslavement of prisoners – but not for observance of their rights, not to speak of rehabilitation and socialization”.
On July 27, he has held a single-person protest near the FPS headquarters demanding to dismiss the FPS management headed by Gennady Kornienko.
“The dishonorable dismissal of the current management would mobilize the next FPS Director to prevent the barbaric treatment of inmates,” – Kur’yanov explains.
However, other human rights activists interviewed by The CrimeRussia don’t really believe that the ‘torture scandal’ may shake the chair under the Director of the Russian Penitentiary Service.
Gennady Kornienko, Director of the FPS, is a veteran of the KGB of the USSR and FSB of Russia (1981–2001), colonel general (2012), and Candidate of Legal Sciences. In 2001–2001, was a Deputy Head of the Federal Protection Service. In 2002–2012, was the Director of the State Courier Service. In June 2012, has been appointed the Director of the FPS. Succeeded to Aleksander Reimer convicted 5 years after the retirement for embezzlement of 3 billion rubles ($44 million) allocated for acquisition of electronic bracelets.
“The political capital of Kornienko should not be underestimated. In the course of his career, he had held supreme posts in such powerful enforcement structures as KGB–FSB and Federal Protection Service and was in charge of the State Courier Service. Scapegoats will be found, while he is currently identifying and punishing the malefactors – i.e. fulfilling his duty,” – The CrimeRussia source in a human rights organization told on condition of anonymity (“I have to communicate with him in the future in line of duty,” – the source noted.)
“On the other hand, Kornienko himself may want to retire (he turns 65 next year; this the maximum age for a colonel general according to the law) – however, this is unlikely. The general is ambitious and energetic; the most likely perspective for him is a promotion at a different enforcement agency”.
Vladimir Osechkin, founder of Gulagu.net project against torture and repressions, is more meticulous in his words but overall agrees with the above prognosis.
“According to our source, general Kornienko is lobbying, with the support of his former colleagues in the Federal Protection Service and FSB, a smooth scenario involving his resignation without subsequent institution of criminal cases against him and his deputies, except for Oleg Korshunov detained last year and likely facing a lengthy term in a maximum security penal colony for a number of grievous and especially grievous crimes. Any other person – except for Kornienko and his first deputy Anatoly Rudy – would be dismissed or even arrested is such a situation. But Kornienko is a colonel general with 20 years of FSB experience. He possesses extensive connection in the FSB and Presidential Executive Office,” – Osechkin explains.
However, according to a number of sources, the situation with human rights was not as acute during the rule of Aleksander Reimer, who is currently serving a term for embezzlements, as it is now, under the rule of his successor Kornienko.
Irina Biryukova, lawyer for Public Verdict Foundation, was the first to attract the public attention to the beating of Evgeny Makarov in the Yaroslavl penal colony. In her recent interview to Novaya Gazeta newspaper, she has also noted that, based on the growing number of complaints of tortures, the overall situation in the country is worsening.
“In the last five years, the tortures became much more refined and ruthless,” – Biryukova says.
The purge of ranks in the FPS has started long before the ‘torture scandal’ – Kornienko’s deputies Yuri Barinov and Oleg Korshunov were arrested, while several other high-ranked officers fired. It is still ongoing – on August 31, Vladimir Putin has dismissed several enforcement generals including three heads of regional FPS administrations: Sergei Koryuchin (Omsk region), Igor Vaneev (Komi Republic), and Pavel Radchenko (Volgograd region). The termination of the management of the scandalous FPS Administration for the Yaroslavl Region is forthcoming as well – Kornienko’s deputy Valery Maksimenko has already expressed his displeasure with results of the departmental probe carried out there and scheduled a new audit. The CrimeRussia source believes that, despite the authority of Kornienko, dismissals in the top echelon of the FPS are possible as well. This is especially actual for Anatoly Rudy, Deputy Director of the FPS, – his first reaction to the tortures in the Yaroslavl penal colony was as follows: “inmate Makarov had committed 136 violations in the colony and provoked the officers”.
Of course, this is not only about his words – but in any case, a governmental official must speak more carefully.
According to a source of Gulagu.net in the FPS, lieutenant general Anatoly Rudy was a close friend of detained Oleg Korshunov – he had approved all his proposals and endorsed his letters and requests without proper checks. Gennady Kornienko could not be unaware that Rudy used to spend with Korshunov almost all weekends in departmental Aksakovo Health Resort – where each of them had a multi-room deluxe suite and where they could discuss shady schemes all by themselves and without possible FSB surveillance. In addition, according to some information, investigators handling the case against another Kornienko’s deputy – Yuri Barinov – had questioned Anatoly Rudy as well.
“Kornienko had completely trusted Rudy transferred by him to the FPS from the State Courier Service – like the father trusts his son. The fate of general Rudy currently depends on the administrative resource of the FPS Director”. According to the same source, Oleg Korshunov has preliminary agreed to testify against Rudy in exchange for mitigation of the future punishment and disclose all documents exposing Rudy as the ‘Grey Eminence’ of corruption schemes involving governmental acquisitions of the FPS. Therefore, the chances of Rudy to retain his post (and possibly freedom) are slim in comparison with his direct superior Kornienko.
Vladimir Osechkin, founder of Gulagu.net project, believes that the situation with torture in penal colonies hasn’t really improved after the attraction of the public attention to it in July 2018.
“Our hotline continues receiving reports of tortures from pretrial detention centers and colonies – from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. No radical changes have occurred – and not only because of the incompetence of the current FPS administration”.
The human rights activist claims that the Russian prison is traditionally closely linked with the investigation and state prosecution and serves as their logical extension. ‘Pressure chambers’, where confessions and testimonies against third parties are extracted from suspects and detainees, still exist in FPS institutions. The prison officers are put in a situation where they have to complete the unfinished work of prosecutors and investigators.
According to Vladimir Osechkin, any FPS operative would tell you in a private conversation that both himself and his commanders entirely depend on their FSB overseer, supervising prosecutor, and local investigators. Should operatives of a pretrial detention center refuse to obey a verbal order of their colleagues from other enforcement services, on the next day, probes would be launched against the institution, misuses of budget funds identified, and cell phones and other restricted items discovered. As a result, the personnel of the FPS institution would be deprived of bonuses, while its management may be dismissed or even prosecuted.
"On the other hand, FPS officers understand that as long as they promptly fulfill the assignments from investigators, prosecutors, and the FSB overseer, they can freely collect ‘levies' from inmates and trade ‘restricted items' and better confinement conditions without any worries. Nationwide, we have a colossal conspiracy of silence – the entire system is riddled with corruption and changes are possible only after the diagnostics of all the problems. Apparently, without large-scale management reshuffles and administrative reforms in the FPS, torture scandals are going to repeat again and again".