“If you want to live, you pay them”

Photo by Valeria Prikhodkina. Prisoners at Penal Colony No. 6 in Kopeisk holding a sign reading “The Prison Administration Extorts $. Tortures and Humiliates Us.”

On Saturday, November 24st, 2012, hundreds of prisoners at Penal Colony No.6 in Kopeisk, Russia walked out onto the roofs of the prison with banners in order to protest the horrific conditions inside. The signs, some of them allegedly written in blood, plead for help. The protest led to a violent confrontation between the police and the prisoners’ relatives gathered outside the prison gates—the protest had been staged on a visitors’ day.

The following are three testimonies: the first a statement from Valeria Prikhodkina, a member of the Public Monitoring Committee of the Chelyabinsk region; next, a description of conditions inside Penal Colony No.6 from former inmate Mikhail Ermuraki, who was released in April 2012; and, finally, human rights activist Nikolai Shur’s interview with Russian independent news site slon.ru upon visiting the prison on Tuesday.

Valeria Prikhodkina

Public Monitoring Committee, Chelyabinsk

[Source: Bolshoi Gorod. Published November 25, 2012]

Saturday was visiting day at the prison. People started coming early in the morning, some having traveled long distances. All visitors were stopped at the prison gates without explanation. Something was going on inside. Suddenly, the riot police stormed into the prison along with other police forces and even fire trucks. The visiting relatives began to panic.

The inmates had organized a strike; they went out into the prison yard and refused to go back inside.

More relatives gathered at the gates. By evening, it seemed that military operations were underway inside the colony: you could hear screams, people were running on the roofs, and then prisoners hung out a sheet with the message “People, help us” written on it. Members of the Public Monitoring Committee arrived, but they were not admitted into the prison. After they left at around 23:00, a bloodbath began. The police beat the prisoners with sticks, indiscriminately and swinging wildly.

From among our colleagues, only Oksana Trufanova stayed. She met the prison warden and was told that the prisoners had captured the watchtower and that she would not be allowed inside. She went into the grounds as far as she could and then left when she found she could go no further. While we were talking to her on the phone, we suddenly heard screams and the line went dead. It turned out that the riot police had attacked the assembled crowd of relatives to disperse them. Oksana was hit on the head with a police club and she lost consciousness. I don’t know anything about the drunken young people they’re talking about in official reports. I think it’s just nonsense. Who visits prisons? Mothers, wives—they’d been standing at the shut prison gates in the cold since the morning.

This particular penal colony is, of course, problematic, and we tend to visit it more often than we do other places.

If you come to a prison and the prisoners don’t say anything or tell you everything’s fine, that’s no reason to believe that it’s a regular Young Pioneer summer camp. Prisoners only start speaking when they can’t take it anymore and believe it can’t get any worse. Apparently that’s what happened in Kopeisk.

We are currently reviewing the case of Nikolai Korovkin along with the prosecutor’s office. Investigators have kept themselves busy by refusing all our requests since June. We have a lot of evidence that he was simply beaten to death. The authorities claim he died of late stage AIDS. The problem with that story is that he only spent two months in the penal colony after his trial. So either something happened to him in prison or they sent a gravely ill man to the penal colony. We have found someone who witnessed the beating.

Another prisoner, Daniil Abakumov, when he wound up in a pretrial detention facility, disclosed details and wrote a statement. But then they sent him back to the colony. I can’t even talk about what happened to him after that, but there is video of his testimony online. We’re talking about extortion, beatings, rape—in a word, torture.

Why does all of this go on? They’re trying to shake the relatives down for money. I don’t know whether it’s for themselves or for the colony as whole. Prisons in Russia are being reformed right now, and the penal colonies are supposed to be outfitted to European standards. But they don’t have the money for it. And so the relatives are paying for everything from fans to game consoles. You want to be paroled? That will cost you. Do you want your son or husband to be safe from beatings? That will cost you.

There aren’t standard rates—they stop at nothing. Someone was bringing them desk lamps, someone else, toilets. And the relatives were the ones who took out the loans, who actually bought these toilets, in exchange for parole. Parents are constantly complaining that their children are completely eligible for parole but it is not being granted because they can’t afford to pay the authorities. They were extorting money from Korovkin as well.

There are rumors that if a prisoner complains, they break his hands. I don’t have any proof of this, but this kind of injury, fractured fingers, is very common in the Chelyabinsk region, and often ends in amputation. Especially in this colony, where there have been several cases. No one will say what happened. And what would you say if they broke your fingers?

Yes, this penal colony is mostly populated with “maximum security” inmates, repeat offenders. But the government admits that 30% of the incarcerated are there undeservedly, while in reality the number is even greater. As human rights advocates, we are not concerned about what people are in prison for. People are people. They have been convicted and sentenced to incarceration. No law legislates slave labor, humiliation, round-the-clock beatings and torturous conditions.

Mikhail Ermuraki 

Former Inmate at Kopeisk No. 6

[Source: Openspace.Ru. Published November 27, 2012]

When I left No. 6 on Monday evening it was still cordoned off. They had started letting buses in, but they weren’t letting cars in. There were a bunch of OMON vehicles. A bunch of traffic cops. The bloody sheets [the demands on the sheets were written in blood—Openspace.ru] that prisoners had written “People on the outside, help us!” had been removed from the barracks and towers yesterday, when the riot police had gone into the colony.

I’ll say this: it was reasonable people in No. 6 who organized themselves. They don’t want to be beaten. They decided they can’t take it anymore. They’ll either slit their wrists, commit suicide or go down swinging. This wasn’t an uprising, but a declaration of their rights. Around 6 PM Moscow time on Monday I got a call from the prison and was told that 250 people, including those who had been on the roof in Kopeisk over the weekend, were sent to the medical unit, and the majority of them had been made to stand in the yard naked. They stood there naked for no less than five hours, keeping in mind that on Monday, it was -9 degrees Celsius in Kopeisk. They weren’t allowed to drink or put on clothes.

When I was there, things like this happened as well. It’s a kind of torture. An hour into it, you want to go to the bathroom. You fidget and the guard will tell you to stand still. If you disobey, they drag you into the duty room, put you on the “stretcher” [which involves handcuffing the prisoner’s hands and feet to the bars as far apart as possible—Openspace.ru], start beating you and tell you that you’re so lawless, why are you breaking the code of conduct?

It’s especially horrible in No. 6. The guards take you to solitary confinement and practice on you like you’re a punching bag. They hit you anywhere, even in the balls. Until you’re foaming at the mouth — some people lose consciousness. They don’t care how old you are—20, 48, or 65. I went through this myself. I was released on April 4 of this year, and I went in for oral surgery on April 5 and again on April 10. The two oral surgeons could have wept. I opened up my mouth and told them I’d been walking around in this condition since March 24. My jaw was completely broken: they did that to me in prison. When I got out, I found the mothers of various other inmates and explained to them their sons didn’t write them for months because their hands had been broken.

One of the convicts, Korovkin was his last name, they killed him last summer because he refused to pay them. It goes like this: a new batch of prisoners arrives, and they find out what people’s financial situation is. God forbid they find out that your wife has a hair salon or that your mother-in-law runs a kiosk. Then the extortion begins.

If you want to live, you pay them. They charge 200, 300, 500 rubles. If you don’t pay, they pour chlorine on you, strip you naked, and throw you out into the yard where it’s -20 degrees Celsius. After four days of that, I got pneumonia. I filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office and got solitary for five days as a result. A day in, I lost my voice. Then my blood pressure dropped. Just then investigators from the prosecutor’s office came—I got lucky. They took me out of there to a [regular] cell and the prosecutor asked, “What’s going on here?” I just pulled up my t-shirt without saying a word. There were marks from the beatings on my body, seven stripes four centimeters wide and 12 to 36 centimeters long. They saw this, yelled at the prison authorities, but no one lost their jobs. The worst part is that they’re not letting any human rights advocates into the prison right now.

Nikolai Shur

Member of the regional public commission on prisoners’ rights, interviewed by Roman Dobrokhotov

[Source: Slon.ru. Published November 27, 2012].

Nikolai, today your group was finally allowed into the penal colony. Did you find evidence of violence there, beatings?

During the protest, there was no violence from either side. The prisoner’s protest was completely peaceful: they did not attack anyone. And they ended it of their own free will because they had achieved their goal: to draw the attention of the media, human rights advocates, and the prosecutor’s office to what was happening in the prison.

There had been reports of torture and beatings. Have you been able to confirm them?

Yes, beatings and torture were a regular occurrence in the prison on a mass scale. We were able to gather specific examples of this corroborated by photographic evidence and videotaped testimony, which we will present at a press conference tomorrow.

Were you allowed to see the solitary confinement cells?

Yes, we were allowed in everywhere. In the solitary confinement cells there is a man who has been on hunger strike since the 19th and is in critical condition. They are not allowing doctors in to see him, and today, he cut his veins in desperation. And that’s not the only such case.

What kind of torture goes on at this prison? 

Today, we heard stories of how inmates were given electric shocks. Bracelets are put on their legs to which a generator is hooked up. The generator is cranked up and the person is shocked.

Why do they do this?

For various reasons—mostly in order to extort money.

So you were also able to confirm instances of extortion?

Yes, in large numbers. It wasn’t just a handful or dozens of cases, but hundreds of cases: it really a mass phenomenon.

But the prisoners earn pennies—what can be extorted from them?

They make their relatives bring money or goods. There are a huge number of instances of this.

How much money do they ask for?

One inmate estimated that about a million rubles (about $32 K USD—Trans.) is taken from a unit (a unit contains between 100 and 150 prisoners) per month. Which is to say about 10 to 15 million rubles a month for the whole colony. However, these figures are only from one source: they need to be corroborated.

Your committee will continue to watch this penal colony since it’s highly likely that the administration will decide to get even with the prisoners for their protest.

Yes, the prison administration is just dreaming of this, but right now, they are more concerned with saving their skin than getting revenge.

Do you think they’ll manage to save their skins?

I really hope that everyone guilty will be punished, I sincerely hope for this. If you journalists continue to support us, we might have a chance. 

Translated by Bela Shayevich and Chtodelat News

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