Why are people constantly tortured in Russian colonies? Are employees punished for this? Or are they encouraged? Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee against Torture, explains

In October, the human rights project Gulagu.net published several videos of scenes of sexual violence and torture in Russian colonies. According to the founder of the project, Vladimir Osechkin, these videos are a small part of the 40 GB archive (a former prisoner gave it to human rights defenders). Osechkin is sure that, although the prisoners themselves take part in the torture, all this is a single centralized system created with the knowledge of the FSIN. Meduza talked to Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee against Torture, about why the employees of the colonies themselves torture people (or force them to torture others).

Why are people tortured in colonies? 

There are answers of different levels. The first level – most people perceive a person as a creature with whom one needs to communicate through the head and ears, but a certain part of people believe that it is better to do this through other parts of the body that can be hurt. Why do some whip their children and some do not? This is a philosophical and pedagogical aspect. Some people are sure that something can be explained to a person only by putting him on peas. We are sure that it is more effective through pain. 

The second level is the legal aspect. Officials are people who came to the service in uniform and shoulder straps. And putting on the uniform, they made a commitment to act only according to the law. At work, they were given certain tools for all situations that may arise in places of detention. Prisoners can be rude to a colony employee, dress sloppily, prepare an escape, organize a whole criminal community, and so on. And for each of these negative manifestations, a legal type of reaction is provided – from the announcement of a penalty and placement in a punishment cell to transfer to more stringent conditions for serving the sentence. The use of physical force is permissible only to overcome physical resistance – or in situations where a person wants to harm himself and others.

But the colony employee has a dissonance in his head. For example, he made a remark to the convict, and he sent it in three letters. According to the law, he is obliged to declare a penalty, write a report, take an explanation, and only then you can slap the way of the day of the punishment cell. But the employee has a different upbringing – in this situation he feels insulted. At this moment, he does not feel like an employee at work. And a convicted person is not an object of education for him. The employee feels like a yard boy, and for him this situation is the same as if he was personally humiliated in a yard campaign. For boyish reasons, in this case it is necessary to give in the face. Moreover, the employee believes that no punishment cell will help and we need to act differently.  

The employee understands that if he kicks the convict in the face or hits him with a truncheon, it will be illegal. Any torture in colonies is prohibited by law – it is considered a serious malfeasance. But the employee thinks in his head: “Now I will do what I think is right. I’ll hit him in the teeth, beat him and turn on the electricity [to the prisoner]. But in doing so, I will break the law. What kind of violation will I be? ” He turns to his practice, the life experience of his colleagues and concludes that there will be nothing for him for these violations. In thousands of such cases, the prohibition of torture has been violated, and no one has ever been punished.Advertising

Therefore, the law almost never works. Therefore, it is violated everywhere and there is practically no legal factor. “It is impossible, but in fact it is possible.”

So, only the cultural and educational factor works for the employees of the colony. And the culture of these people is also basically prison. The guards who come up with methods of rape and other sexualized punishment use native elements of the prison subculture that have been developed over the centuries.

Can an employee refuse to torture someone and change the situation in his colony?

There are people who can. From time to time they are found. But the question is, what is the ratio of such people – and those who think that it is necessary to give a prisoner in the teeth.

Psychologists often talk about what kind of conformism a person is willing to accept while in a group. For example, that in the presence of 20 people, of which 19 are in collusion with the experimenter, the 20 is shown black and white pyramids. 19 people before him say that they are both white, and in the end he also says that they are white.

What can we say about a person in such a specific team. Duty shift. There are 15 guards in it, 14 of whom say that a petty prisoner should be given proper treatment and a stun gun applied to him. The 15th, educated, overseer understands that this is illegal, but his position will only lead to anger. 14 senior comrades tell him: “You are a sucker, you do not understand anything. These prisoners do not understand any other way. ” How will this one person correct the behavior of the established team?

How do such leaks from colonies happen? How do they end?

It can be different. For example, such materials can be purchased. Or someone might pass them on for ideological reasons.

But the legality of how these videos were obtained, unfortunately, may affect how they are viewed later. I hope that the records remain in the archives on the servers on which all this should be stored. As far as I know, the leadership of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia was warned a day before the publication of the materials that there were such records and that they had to be urgently removed in order to be handed over to the investigation. Because they will be published for public access and the people who appear there will really want to destroy it. 

I hope that the authenticity of these records will be legally proven and they will appear as official evidence in criminal cases. Personally, I have no doubts about their authenticity. This is not a dramatization or staged footage. 

We have already had similar cases. For example, in the Yaroslavl colony since 2018. Some persons who had access to the records copied them and transferred them to  the Public Verdict , and those to  Novaya Gazeta . This was the beginning of the investigation .

As practice shows, such a start is the most effective for an investigation. Although, perhaps, this is not very correct according to the law. According to the law, these records must be taken to the prosecutor’s office, the Investigative Committee, and a statement must be written. But there is a big risk that if you take [the torture video] to the UK, everything will be lost the next day – and you yourself will not get home. And when everything is published, it is already useless to eliminate something. 

Can this system be changed at all?

Now the norms and prohibitions do not work, because practically no one is punished for torture. If the current story ends with people being punished, a hole will be made. Because the law works well when it is always punished for breaking it, and not in one case in a thousand.

But even that is better than not being punished at all. This creates risks for people who do this kind of thing. Every fact when someone is punished and held accountable for torture is an important sensitive signal: “Maybe we shouldn’t do this after all? After all, you can then be behind bars. 

(C)MEDUZA 2021_

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.