Open Letter to the Russian President on Prison Torture

Russian prison. Source: RobertAmsterdam.comRussia’s law enforcement and penitentiary systems have long been notorious for their widespread use of torture. Experts say the fact that police and prison officials use torture on suspects and convicts alike is highly normalized in Russian society and presents a problem that the government is uninterested in solving anytime soon. Aside from critics such as Amnesty International and the United Nations, even Russia’s Internal Ministry itself admits that torture is a serious problem. One recent study indicates that as many as one in every 25 Russian citizens is tortured every year.

A group of prominent Russian human rights advocates have penned a letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on the subject, asking him to take immediate action to put an end to the widespread use of torture in Russia’s detention facilities.

To the President of the Russian Federation
D.A. Medvedev

Message from members of public hearings dedicated to the problem of torture within law enforcement agencies and the penitentiary system

Respected Dmitri Anatolevich!

The prevalence of torture, physical and psychological, that happens in our country during both inquiries and investigations and also during detention has taken on a scale characteristic of a totalitarian society.

Medieval in nature, torture is used far and wide to obtain self-incriminating statements and statements incriminating others as well as for morally suppressing prisoners. Regardless of the changes in law and all reforms in law enforcement agencies, the practice of torture has been preserved and is even expanding.

We consider the current situation to be absolutely intolerable and feel that it demands joint action from both the state and civil society.

We are pinning our hopes on you, since it is precisely you who has repeatedly proclaimed that observing the principle of the supremacy of law is important and is the main guarantor of constitutional human rights and freedoms in our country.

We call upon you to issue a legislative initiative to change the Criminal Procedural Code of the Russian Federation so that it would preserve the testimony of accused persons given during preliminary investigations only in the case that it is later confirmed by the defendant in court. This would render the use of torture and forced testimony during inquiries and investigations pointless.

In addition, we call upon you to initiate changes to strip prison administrations of any motivation to use unlawful pressure against people in detention. With this goal in mind, limits on the actions of penal system operational staff should be introduced into the Penal Code of the Russian Federation. They should not have the authority to engage in illegal activities that are committed by persons outside of the given place of detention or which go beyond the punishment that the prisoner has been sentenced to. In this way, operatives will only work to prevent and put a stop to violations of the law that are planned or committed in these places of detention.

We call upon you to create a joint public and state commission to investigate incidents of torture and cruel and degrading treatment.

Such a commission should be created with the participation of representatives of state agencies and also the Presidential Council on the Development of Society and Human Rights, the Public Chamber of the RF, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the RF, a specialized committee of the State Duma of the RF, and specialized human rights organizations.

We members of the organizational committee for public hearings dedicated to the problem of torture in law enforcement agencies and the penitentiary system also feel it is very important to take part in the work of such a commission.

We are certain that, without your immediate interference, the problem of the expansion of the use of torture will definitively destroy the prestige of Russian justice and will undermind the faith of the Russian people in the law.

Hearing Organizational Committee:

L.M. Alexeyeva, representative of the Moscow Helsinki Group, representative of the head of the foundation In Defense of the Rights of Prisoners
V.V. Borshchev, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
S.A. Kovalev, president of the Institute of Human Rights
L.A. Ponomarev, leader of For Human Rights
S.V. Belyak, lawyer
D.N. Dmitriev, lawyer

February 21, 2011
A.D. Sakharov Museum & Public Center