In connection with Ildar Dadin’s situation people have once again begun to speak about torture in prisons and other violations of prisoner’s rights. We are involved with this conversation in connection with the project “Protecting the Rights of Residents of the North Caucasus in Places of Imprisonment.” We will begin a small cycle of publications about the situation in various regions of Russia. First up we are publishing the work of Ahmed Barakhoyev – a project coordinator in Ingushetia.
The situation regarding the serving of sentences in Ingushetia is not substantially different to the situation in Russia as a whole. In Ingushetia there are no correction centres, only jails, in which there aren’t so many complaints. But there are often complaints about the Centre Against Extremism. There are also irregularities in police departments where detainees are sent to.
Recently there was a case of a minor, who was detained and interrogated for two days without the presence of parents or psychologist. Moreover, the family did not know of the whereabouts of the teenager for more than a day. Only through eyewitnesses were they able to establish that he was in the Sunzheskey District Police Department and a lawyer was, with hard work, able to obtain permission to meet him.
In such an event only a lawyer can help the detainee. But in the context of Ingushetia it is very difficult to find a lawyer who would take on such a criminal case. The few lawyers who work with criminal cases are overworked, taking a toll on the quality of the investigation. In the case discussed above, we recommended a lawyer to the relatives. However, as so often happens, the relatives did not agreed to appeal the investigator’s wrongdoing.
Not only was a minor interrogated without the presence of parents or guardians: He was under duress and signed a confession for crimes he didn’t commit. However, for relatives the most important thing is to see the detainee set free and they don’t tend to complain about procedural violations. Sadly, in the end it often leads to re-arrest and actual imprisonment.
The most severe cases of detention that include violations of human rights are to do with the suspicion of terrorism and aiding and abetting militants.
All these cases come under article 222 of the criminal code (illegal storage of a weapon). Law enforcement agencies always act in the same, well-established pattern. It all starts with a search, during which ammunition or explosive substances are found. This ensures, as a minimum, article 222 of criminal code is fulfilled. Often the origin of these “findings” is unclear, but it is almost never possible to prove they weren’t there before the search of the house.
Furthermore, during the first interrogation, under pressure and in the presence of an appointed lawyer, the authorities get the necessary evidence. From this point on if the accused does not immediately make enough of an effort, another charge is added to the article. But with the good work of a lawyer it is possible to successfully avoid additional charges and incur the minimum penalty under article 222.
A lot depends on whether the convict or their relatives are ready to complain and challenge the unlawful actions of law enforcement. In one of the latest cases, a resident of Nazran was detained at home. During the search they allegedly found ammunition. They threatened the detainee that, in the case of his transgression, the charge can become much more severe. Under pressure and on the advice of an appointed lawyer, he began to “cooperate” with the investigation and pleaded guilty, sure that nothing could save him.
However, after the introduction to an independent lawyer things have changed greatly. Charges under articles 208 of the criminal code (organization of illegal armed formation or participation in it), 205 of the criminal code (terrorist act), 209 of the criminal code (banditry), were challenged in court. As a result, the guy got a year and a half in an open prison.
It should be noted that in most of the cases when young people come to the attention of law enforcement it is because of their faith, which is expressed by their appearance (beard, specific clothing and so on).
A good example of the interrogation methods used by law enforcement agencies – the shocking case of Magomed Daliev, who died as a result of physical violence and torture. Of course this case was not without the infamous article 222 of the criminal code which law enforcement use to start any criminal case in Ingushetia.
You can find many such examples – regarding both the actions of law enforcement the behaviour of relatives.
Effective work on the rights of prisoners and individuals under investigation is impossible without cooperation with the authorities and NGOs. Every complaint of the relatives of prisoners referred to Memorial and Civic Assistance Committee is duplicated for the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Ingushetia and the Public Monitoring Committee (PMC). This is because investigating authorities, the Prosecutor’s office and the administrations of prisons and corrective colonies often reluctantly respond to requests from NGOs and do so with a delay. In the case of the Commissioner and the PMC the response is faster and can be a real help for the lawyer.
The hardest part of our work is the protection of prisoners serving sentences in other parts of Russia, especially in the remote regions. It is a rare occurrence when the prisoner and his relatives understand all of the risks, associated with the effects of our intervention. Although the effect of our intervention depends on the colony, they are often positive. When the head of the colony notes the visits of a lawyer from the outside he eases the pressure on the prisoner. There was a time when a lawyer visited a prisoner from Chechnya or Ingushetia and listened to his complaints. This has had a general positive effect on all the other inmates from these republics. The opposite effect does also happen, but much less frequently, and during the work of the project, the lawyers and team members have developed their methods of interaction with different colonies.
Successful cases give rise to another kind of problem: families do not always understand the possibilities and limits of the program. This is understandable:
For each person the specific problem relating to their prisoner is the most important and calls for immediate intervention. However, the majority problems described to us are not desperate enough to require our intervention. It is not possible to work on all cases so the project has to expose cases when the violation of the prisoner’s rights poses a risk to life.
And here another problem arises: the relatives, and yes the prisoners themselves are not always ready to openly speak about the violations they are facing. Very often the conversation boils down to – if this potentially threatening to the convicted person? Relatives want to get some guarantee of their safety after the intervention of a lawyer. For obvious reasons such assurances cannot be given – as a result many promising cases can’t be taken further – but such cases could serve as a precedent.
Today everyone who has, in one way or another, been involved with prisons knows that the penitentiary system of the country leaves much to be desired. Prison conditions do not encourage to the correction of a person, but rather serve to break his psyche.
A special relationship develops in the prison colonies against people from the Caucasus, especially from Chechnya and Ingushetia. The fighting in Chechnya has contributed to this attitude. Taking first place in the list of prisoners’ complaints is discrimination on a national or religious basis. In particular, these complaints occur in the period of Muslim fasting (Eid). During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan there is a certain time when the fasting person can eat. If it is forbidden to eat during the daylight hours, the prison warden has no complaints. But when the evening meal is not in sync with the schedule of the correctional institution not to mention the meal before dawn (suhur) and prayer. In addition, during Ramadan, Muslim prisoners read the Quran at a specific time of day. This also falls in the list of violations of the internal regime and often implies a disproportionate punishment.
Every case calls for attention and continuous work, so as not to harm the prisoner himself, because certain issues spring up again and again primarily on national and religious grounds.
Solving the problem of one prisoner is a drop in the ocean in the attempt to change the prison system as a whole, which must be aimed for. The problem of violence and discrimination in prisons is a broad problem, and does not only relate to those from the North Caucasus.
Akhmed Barakhoyev, Project Coordinator in the Republic of Ingushetia