Daily Archives: November 29, 2006

One Day in the Life of Malika Umazheva

Four years ago today, as the Jamestown Foundation reported, Malika Umazheva, the head of the administration of the village of Alkhan-Kala, was shot and killed. Let’s remember her, and all the thousands of people like her whose names remain unknown. And let’s think about the tens of thousands who will follow her unless immediate action is taken to reign in the crazed neo-Soviet state.


“Malika Umazheva has been murdered,” the human rights organization Memorial reported on December 4, “a person well known in Chechnya and beyond its borders, the [ormer head of administration of Alkhan-Kala, who boldly opposed the arbitrariness of the Russian soldiers in her village.” Observing that official Russian news sources were claiming that Umazheva had been killed by separatist “bandits,” Memorial sent a group of its own investigators to the village, “where they questioned the fellow villagers of the murdered woman (her relatives refused to speak with anyone, accusing human rights activists and journalists of not proving capable of defending Malika). It is completely obvious that Malika Umazheva was murdered by those who had more than once made threats against her–by representatives of the federal forces.”

From the words of the villagers, the Memorial investigators were able to reconstruct what had happened on the night of November 29-30. “On [that night] there burst into the home of Malika Umazheva, the former head of administration of Alkhan-Kala, Grozny Village District, four Russian soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms and armed with snipers’ rifles with silencers. Having knocked in the door with the shout: ‘Where are the wahhabis?’ they broke into the house where Malika was present with her son, Said-Akhmed, and two of her nieces, whom she had been raising since they were very young. They ordered everyone to lie down on the floor. Malika asked for permission to light a lamp, but they did not permit it. Two of the soldiers then turned everything upside down in the house, not saying what they were looking for. They then proposed that Malika accompany them to the barn, so they could conduct a search there. The girls became frightened and began to plead: ‘Don’t kill mama!’ Malika tried to quiet them down.”

“One of the soldiers,” the Memorial account continued, “said: ‘I give you my word that she will come back.’ Malika took a lantern and went out ahead of the soldiers. Soon a shot was heard. The neighbors ran up and saw Malika’s body. They report that Umazheva’s house was surrounded by soldiers.” Not far from the Umzhevs’ garden they saw an armored vehicle and military truck standing.

“Several days before the murder,” Memorial recalled, “at 3:00 a.m., according to her nieces, Russian soldiers came and proposed that Malika Umazheva go with them to identify several wahhabis who had supposedly been taken into custody in Alkhan-Kala. Malika refused to go with them because she was no longer head of administration (on September 9, 2002 she had been removed from her post for ‘systematic non-performance of her duties’)…. Later it emerged that no one in the village had been taken into custody that night” (HRO.org, December 4).

In a tribute to the slain Umazheva, award-winning Russian war correspondent Anna Politkovskaya wrote in the December 5 issue of Novaya Gazeta: “Malika was a true heroine, a unique and marvelous one. She became the head of administration of one of the most complex Chechen villages–Alkhan-Kala (a ‘Baraev’ village, the subject of endless ‘cleansing operations,’ executions and disfigured corpses) after the former head had been murdered. Reason would have told her: ‘Sit quietly. Be careful.’ But she did the exact opposite–she became the boldest and most committed village head in that murderous zone of military anarchy which today is Chechnya. By herself, unarmed, she went out to meet the [Russian] tanks that were crawling into the village. Alone, she shouted to the generals who had deceived her and, on the sly, were murdering the residents of the village: ‘You scoundrels!’ She relentlessly fought for a better fate for Alkhan-Kala. No one else permitted himself to do that in present-day Chechnya. Not a single male.”

“She, a humble village head who had been elected by a popular assembly,” Politkovskaya continued, “earned the wild hatred of the chief of our General Staff, the much-decorated General Kvashnin. He hated her so much that he invented the vilest stories about her, using his access to the television cameras to spread them. And she? She continued along her chosen path and, in response to Kvashnin’s lies, she sued him in court, knowing perfectly well that almost everyone is afraid of him…. But Kvashnin does not forgive those who do not fear him.”

In another tribute appearing in the December 2 issue of Der Tageszeitung (Germany), posted in Russian translation on Inosmi.ru on December 3, journalist Klaus-Helge Donath wrote: “At the beginning of this year, Russian soldiers searched the home of the head of administration of Alkhan-Kala nine times. Each time they demanded the same thing: They demanded that the 55-year-old former schoolteacher affix her signature to a statement affirming that during the course of the ‘cleansing operations’ there had been no violations of legality. Malika Umazheva refused.”

“It is clear,” Donath went on, “that this crime will never be solved. Umazheva was for the Russian FSB and soldiers a beam in their eye. She not only knew how to keep the residents calm, despite their sufferings, but she also was able to pass on information concerning the horrors endured by her community, which numbers 20,000 souls, beyond the borders of Chechnya. After the atrocities at the beginning of the year, a delegation from the Council of Europe visited Alkhan-Kala. Umazheva has died, and with her has died a voice calling for the curbing of anger and for reconciliation.”

On December 4, Musa Khasanov, a correspondent for Radio Liberty, reported that: “More than 4,000 residents of the Chechen Republic… gathered today for the funeral of Malika Umazheva in the settlement of Alkhan-Kala, and almost all of them signed an appeal to the [pro-Moscow] leadership and procuracy of the republic asking that they locate and punish those guilty of murdering a courageous Chechen woman who, despite all the threats from the Russian special services, the MVD, and the soldiers of the Combined Group of Forces in Chechnya, always stood in defense of the rights of the populace of Alkhan-Kala, documenting all illegal actions committed by the soldiers during their many special operations and raids on that population point” (In HRO.org, December 4).

In January 2003, Amnesty International protested the murder of Umazheva. Amnesty has released a massive report documenting the outrageous litany of attacks by Kremlin forces on civilians and human rights workers. Read it here. Human Rights Watch has also documented her case, stating: “The murder of Malika Umazheva was the first clearly retaliatory murder of its kind in Chechnya. Until September 2002, Umazheva served as head of administration for Alkhan-Kala, a village on the outskirts of Grozny that has been the scene of repeated, abusive sweep operations. Unlike many other village administrators, Umazheva had been very outspoken about abuses by Russian forces in her village, worked with human rights defenders to document abuses, and repeatedly confronted the Russian military about them. his earned her the personal rancor of high-ranking Russian military officials, including General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, who accused her on state television of corruption. On September 9, 2002, Umazheva was removed from her post by pro-Moscow officials on the pretext of ‘systematic nonperformance of duties.’ Prior to her murder, she successfully challenged her dismissal in court. She was to have resumed her post on December.

If you think the world has learned any kind of lesson from this brutal killing, just try to find a photograph of Malika on the web. Just one. In your fruitless struggle, you’ll begin to appreciate the horror of Neo-Soviet liquidation and Western cowardice.

UPDATE: La Russophobe thanks the reader who has provided a link to a picture of Malika in the comments section. It is displayed at the left. The tiny size of this picture, on a Russian human rights website (Human Rights Online) strongly emphasizes the failure of the West to give Malika her due, just as it failed to award Lidia Yusupova the Nobel Peace prize, failed to protect Anna Politkovskaya from assassination and is failing generally to stand up for human rights and democracy in Russia.

Uh-Oh: Here Comes the Holy Russian Empire

ITAR-TASS reports:

A six-meter-high Orthodox cross was mounted and consecrated on Monday in the Baikal region, at the junction of Russia’s border with China and Mongolia.

There is the inscription “Save, Oh God, Thy People!” on the metal cross weighing over one ton. The cross can be seen from China, as well as from Mongolia. Bishop of Chita and the Baikal Region Eustathius blessed the cross.

“The cross will become a symbolic periapt of Russia’s eastern borders, and will serve a noble cause of the revival of spirituality of the population on the Russian border and the strengthening of the moral spirit of its guards,” the head of the Federal Security Service’s border department in Buryatia and the Chita region, Major General Nikolai Volkov said.

Border guards of the Baikal region protect about 3,000 kilometres of the Russian-Chinese and Russian-Mongolian border in adverse climatic conditions of Eastern Siberia, where temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius above zero in summer and drop to minus 40 degrees in winter. The region has diverse topography, including steppes, desolate taiga and major mountain ridges.

This year, border guards of the Baikal region have stopped over 1,200 attempts to smuggle 7.5 million roubles worth of cargo across the border. One hundred transgressors have been detained, border department sources told Tass.

Russia is Strangling its Economy

The Australian News reports that “Russia is strangling its economy” according to yet another international study that has condemned Russia:

RUSSIA’S bureaucracy is corrupt, its health system is in crisis and the expansion of the state into the private sector bodes ill for the country’s future, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In an analysis of Russia’s prospects, the OECD survey provides a damning critique of the country’s efforts at reform and gives a stark warning of the state’s aggressive intervention in strategic industries, notably the expansion of gas monopoly Gazprom.

Structural reform of the Russian economy is slowing, the OECD says, with modest achievements over the past two years.

But government intervention is accelerating in sectors regarded as strategic, such as oil, aviation, power generation, cars and finance.

“Increasingly, policy seems to have been focused not on market reforms but on tightening the state’s grip on the commanding heights of the economy. This bodes ill for Russia’s growth prospects,” the OECD says.

Of particular concern is Gazprom’s “seemingly insatiable appetite for asset acquisitions, often at the expense of a focus on its core business”.

The report points to a sharp expansion in state ownership of stock-market-quoted enterprises, from 20 per cent in mid-2003 to 30 per cent this year.

At the same time, there has been a doubling in state ownership of oil production to 33 per cent, a period that included the bankruptcy of the Yukos conglomerate and its partial takeover by the state oil company, Rosneft.

The OECD argues this a step back, saying the state’s track record as an owner is poor.

And the absence of significant reform of the gas industry constrains the growth of rival gas producers at a time when concern is mounting about the sustainability of Russian gas supplies.

“The expansion of state ownership in important sectors will probably contribute to more rent-seeking, less efficiency and lower growth,” the report concludes.

The OECD’s warning comes after mounting concern that Gazprom is being distracted from its core gas business by investments in the oil and electricity sectors, as well as by political ventures into the media.

This month, the International Energy Agency called on Gazprom to bring more supplies on stream. Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oil tycoon and partner of BP, estimated last week that Gazprom’s output would fall five billion cubic metres short of demand next year.

Russia faces a loss of competitiveness from rapid exchange-rate appreciation and the inflationary pressure of petro-dollar surpluses.

Russia’s health and welfare picture is grim, the OECD says, with life expectancy now just 65 years – five years lower than its late-Soviet peak.

Endemic corruption is a deterrent to investors, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises. The OECD survey condemns Russia’s state bureaucracy as “inefficient, largely unresponsive to either the public or its political masters, and often corrupt”.

The report urges the Government to implement its new administrative reforms, and calls for wider changes, including the strengthening of the rule of law, civil society institutions and an independent press.

Annals of Cold War II: The Big Picture

The Sunday Herald offered a two-part special on the new Cold War with Russia.

PART I: Russia’s New Cold War

To dissident Russian intelligence officers now in exile or in hiding around the world and British intelligence operatives, July 9 this year was a seismic date. On that day legislators in the Duma – the Russian state parliament – unanimously approved new laws which allowed Russia’s Federal Security Service to hunt down and kill enemies of the state anywhere on the face of the Earth.

One British intelligence source said: “This marked a blatant return to the bad old days of the cold war when the KGB thought it could act with impunity anywhere it pleased.”

These so-called “Hunter-Killer” powers also curtailed the right of the Russian media – already cowed and under the control of the Kremlin – to report on these operations. However, the enactment of these new laws only put on a legal footing powers which Russian intelligence had been using extra-judicially for years.

In Chechnya, the assassination of enemies of Russia is now so common that it scarcely bears comment, and in 2004 two Russian agents were arrested and sentenced to death in Qatar for the killing of exiled Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian team hunted him down and planted a bomb in his car. The Qatari court ruled that the killing was sanctioned by “the Russian leadership”. The men were not executed but sent back to Russia following promises from the Kremlin that they would be imprisoned. Rumour has it that they were decorated for the assassination operation.

Akhmed Zakayev, a friend of Alexander Litvinenko and a former field commander in the first Chechen war who later became the deputy prime minister of Chechnya, says the killing of Litvinenko proved to the British people that Putin was “destroying democratic freedoms in Russia and beyond”.

Zakayev, who beat an attempt by Russia to extradite him from the UK, added: “Putin is exporting his terror tactics in Chechnya to the UK and to London streets.” Pointing out that Litvinenko had recently been granted British citizenship following his flight from Moscow after exposing criminal activities by Russian intelligence, Zakayev said: “Putin is now carrying out acts of terror against British citizens. Britain should see this as an act of terrorism against this nation.”

British intelligence estimates that at least 30 Russian spies are operating in the UK. Most are from the GRU, Russian military intelligence, and the SVR, the overseas intelligence service equivalent to MI6. Most are based at the Russian embassy and have diplomatic status. As well as carrying out “traditional” espionage activities such as gathering military, political and industrial secrets, they are also believed to be focusing on Russian dissidents and Chechen rebels who are living in exile in the UK.

British intelligence sources are fearful of the UK’s ability to tackle the gathering threat from the Kremlin. Counter-espionage – monitoring the actions of foreign spies in the UK – now accounts for just 6% of MI5’s budget. This drastic reduction in resources since the days of the cold war is down to MI5 being recalibrated to tackle the al-Qaeda franchise. The director of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, told parliament’s intelligence and security committee that “there’s not less of it foreign espionage about, but we are doing less work on it”.

MI5 has stated that at least 20 foreign intelligence services are “operating against the interests of Britain … and the greatest concern is aroused by the Russians”. MI5 has also said that the number of Russian intelligence operatives in the UK has not declined since the Soviet era.

Putin has put spying at the heart of his foreign policy since his rise to power in 2000. The UK is a key target because of the country’s status as “American ally number one”, Britain’s role as a key leading member of Nato and due to the fact that so many of Putin’s enemies are now living in exile in the UK.

MI5 has issued bulletins to staff and other security and intelligence services asking them to keep track of the movement of Russian diplomats thought to be engaged in spying. One bulletin said that Russian intelligence posed a “substantial” threat to the UK. It also told recipients to keep a look out for Russian diplomatic car licence plates.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has had first-hand experience of the continuing attempts by Russia to spy on Britain. In 1996-97, he was first secretary to the British embassy in Warsaw, Poland, when Russian intelligence made a clumsy attempt to recruit him using sex as the lure.

He was due to attend a friend’s stag night at an Irish bar in the centre of Warsaw but because of work commitments arrived two hours late. The barman informed him that his friends had moved on to a strip joint nearby. “When I arrived at the strip club,” says Murray, “this Russian guy jumps up and calls me by my name and says I know you drink malt whisky, can I get you a Glenfiddich?’. With him were two beautiful Russian girls dressed in their underwear. He told me he was with a Russian trade delegation and said there was a limo outside and that I could take the girls to a house in the suburbs. I declined, made some small talk, finished my drink and then left.”

Murray reported what he calls “this blatant attempt to recruit me” to British security officers at the embassy. They showed him a photo album of known Russian spies in Warsaw. “Unsurprisingly, my friend from the trade delegation’ was in the book,” Murray adds. “It was an astonishingly up-front and unsubtle approach.” To this day, Murray is unsure whether the offer of sex with the Russian girls was an attempt to bribe him into working for the Kremlin or whether it was the set-up for a blackmail sting which would have coerced him into working for Russian intelligence.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a former lieutenant colonel in Russian intelligence. In 2003, after levelling harsh criticism against the Kremlin and its spying services, he came under harassment from the state and fled Russia. He now has political asylum status in the USA.

He has revealed to the Sunday Herald some of the key methods used by Russian intelligence to mount spying operations in Britain. The chief tactic is to target members of the huge Russian diaspora – made up of an eclectic mix of the descendants of White Russians who fled the country during the revolution, dissidents and their families who defected during the cold war and Russians who left the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

One route to the diaspora is through the Russian Orthodox Church in countries such as Britain and America. According to Preobrazhensky, Russian intelligence has long infiltrated the church and used it as a means to recruit emigre Russians and spy on dissidents and exiles.

“In the Soviet period, the Kremlin treated Russian refugees as traitors and enemies, but now it is turning them into its fifth column’,” he says. “Specifically for this purpose, Putin has founded directorate EM’ in his Foreign Intelligence Service. Its officers are working in every Western country, concentrating on local Russians.”

Intelligence officers attract Russians overseas by appealing to their patriotism. “The communist idea has been replaced with the nationalistic one,” Preobrazhensky says. The former spy adds that Putin aimed to turn the Orthodox Church abroad “into outposts of Russian state interests. Russian intelligence has penetrated the Orthodox Church and is utilising it for spying abroad.”

Preobrazhensky, who plans to write about this phenomenon in his forthcoming book The KGB And The Russian Diaspora, points out that around a third of Russian Orthodox worshippers outside the borders of Russia are not native Russians but the children and grandchildren of immigrants. This, he says, gives the intelligence service a route to “ordinary” Britons and Americans who have no understanding of Russian life and are more vulnerable to exploitation.

“Westerners would think it unbelievable that a priest could be a spy – but in Russia is has been going on for almost 100 years,” he adds. “Believe me – Russian Orthodox churches in the UK are infiltrated by Russian intelligence.” The Sunday Herald contacted one Russian Orthodox church but the clergy there declined to comment on the allegations.

Preobrazhensky says that Russia’s intelligence services had “dared” to kill Litvinenko as Putin “isn’t afraid of the West at all. He believes they will never scold him as they think he is their friend”. Preobrazhensky’s words seemed to ring true last Friday when EU leaders met with Putin on the eve of an EU-Russia summit. Not one word was raised by Western leaders about the killing of Litvinenko. It was taken as an indication of just how dependent Europe now is on oil and gas-rich Russia.

“Russian intelligence is now very brave and bold,” says Preobrazhensky. “In that way it differs from the old KGB as the KGB was afraid of condemnation from the West. Today, Russian intelligence is more like it was under Stalin – back then it ignored what the West felt and had no fear of the West.”

Apart from spying on dissidents and exiles in the UK, Russian spies are effectively gathering intelligence on anything they can get their hands on. “They just gather intelligence for the sake of it,” Preobrazhensky says. “They follow Trotsky’s maxim that motion is all, the final point is nothing’. When I spied on China, intelligence could not explain why we were doing the spying.

“There are plenty of Russians in Britain – posing as businessmen or dissidents – who are working for intelligence. Great Britain is not prepared for this at all. Putin really does want to gain primacy over the West.”

Preobrazhensky also believes that Russian intelligence has taken to working with organised crime around the world and suggested that criminals – either British or Russian – could have helped in the assassination of Litvinenko.

Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian dissident who was a friend of Litvinenko and is close to the most famous KGB defector to Britain, Oleg Gordievsky, believes that Russian intelligence is also working hand-in-glove with the Russian mafia both at home and abroad.

“Litvinenko told me how Russian intelligence was merging with the underworld. In Soviet times, the motive was ideological, now it is simply about expanding influence and making and extorting money. He says that when dissidents or businessmen fled Russia because of persecution they were often pursued by intelligence agents.

“They recruit them by threatening to harm their families back in Russia.” As many of these exiles fled Russia because they were facing trumped-up criminal charges, Russia also intimidates them into working for intelligence by threatening to have them extradited back to Moscow and imprisoned. Bukovsky and other dissidents have warned the British authorities that some extradition attempts are often politically motivated.

Once recruited, many Russian immigrants are forced to assist in money-laundering and drug-dealing, Bukovsky claims. They can also be used for more straightforward “traditional” intelligence-gathering. Bukovsky compares the modern Russian intelligence service to the criminal-terrorist network “Spectre” in James Bond movies. He says his friend, former top-ranking Russian spy Gordievsky, has told British intelligence the same thing. “Many in the intelligence services are also key figures in organised crime,” Bukovsky adds.

Bukovsky is deeply disappointed in the West for not tackling this “emerging monster” despite warnings from dissidents such as himself. “Russia is now just implementing laws that the West didn’t take a stand against.”

Bukovsky’s friend Gordievsky, once the head of the KGB in London before his defection, says that Russian intelligence is strengthened by the number of Russians living in the UK and working for British companies. “Each second Russian in a position of some importance is acting as an informer,” he says.

Russia has also successfully bribed British citizens in order to gain UK secrets. Russia is desperate to stay a big defence industry player and has used spying to get commercial secrets in order to remain in the same league as Britain and America. In March 2003, Ian Parr of BAE Systems was jailed for 10 years for attempting to pass military secrets to the Russians. Parr, a former soldier from Essex, wanted £130,000 to provide secrets on a new stealth cruise missile. MI5 later trapped him.

But industrial espionage is the least of Britain’s worries. One UK source closely linked to British intelligence told how he had a conversation with a Russian intelligence officer in 2004, in which the Russian spy spoke of the killing of a British citizen carried out by Russian agents. In January 2004, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Workman was found shot dead on his doorstep in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Furneux Pelham. The killing seemed completely motiveless.

However, the Russian intelligence source told his British contact that Robert Workman was killed in a case of mistaken identity. The real target had been a judge called Timothy Workman who lived not far from the scene of the murder.

In late 2003, Judge Workman infuriated the Kremlin when he rejected Russia’s extradition request for Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen leader in London. Workman said that Zakayev faced a “substantial risk” of being tortured if he was returned to Moscow to stand trial. The Kremlin accused Workman of playing “cold war politics”.

Also in 2003, Judge Workman called a halt to Russia’s attempt to have Boris Berezovsky extradited from Britain. The billionaire oligarch had fallen out with Putin and has bitterly criticised the ruling regime. Berezovsky was also a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko.

British MEP Gerard Batten, of the United Kingdom Independence Party, also became an acquaintance of Litvinenko, who was his constituent. Earlier this year, following briefings with the dissident Russian spy, Batten relayed claims made by Litvinenko on the floor of the European parliament.

Batten said that before fleeing Russia, Litvinenko spoke to his friend, Colonel-General Anatoly Trofimov, a former deputy chief of the FSB the successor organisation to the KGB, seeking advice on which country he should seek asylum in. Batten told the European parliament: “Trofimov reportedly told Litvinenko, Don’t go to Italy, there are many KGB agents there among the politicians. Romano Prodi current prime minister of Italy and former head of the European Commission is our man there’.” Trofimov and his wife were murdered in Moscow in 2005.

Batten called for an inquiry into the claims, and later told the European parliament that Russian intelligence “is central to the institutionalised web of organised crime and corruption that dominates Russia. It is not possible to resign from Russian intelligence anymore than it is from La Cosa Nostra … It is not acceptable that this situation is unresolved given the importance of Russia’s relations with the European Union.”

Alexander Litvinenko was known to want to testify about allegations regarding Russian intelligence links to European political leaders and Russian intelligence involvement within organised crime in Europe prior to his assassination.

Part II: The New Gulags

The Expression”rape rooms” has become synonymous with the torture chambers of the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and some of the other more brutal third world dictatorships that litter the planet. But it isn’t just tin-pot tyrants who employ the most sadistic and cruel methods of repression – if Amnesty International is to be believed, then the authoritarian state controlled by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin is also committing acts of torture against civilians that beggar belief.

In a new report, entitled The Russian Federation: Torture And Forced Confessions In Detention, Amnesty details a multiplicity of human rights abuses by the Russian state against its own citizens.

The organisation has “documented dozens of cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment with a view to extracting a confession in police custody and pre-trial detention across the Russian Federation since May 2002. The confessions then formed the basis of the criminal case against the accused, on the basis of which they were convicted.” In 2005, Russian human rights groups documented at least 114 cases of torture supported by medical records.

Most torture occurs in police stations and holding centres. Methods involved the use of ropes and truncheons, plus electrocution. Victims have also had gas masks put over their heads and the air supply cut.

Many have been held incommunicado in secret detention centres. One victim was Aslan Umakhanov, a lawyer from Yekaterinburg. He was detained and beaten on March 29, 2006. Despite showing signs of torture in court, a judge authorised continued detention. He was subjected to electric shocks for six hours and made to sign a confession.

Prison colony IK-2 in Yekaterinburg is infamous for torture. Amnesty says that in IK-2, convicted prisoners are used to force confessions out of other detainees. And in exchange for early release or privileges, groups of up to six convicts beat and raped detainees who refused to confess. Amnesty adds that victims “described a room where suspects were allegedly raped. They say it is a small room with a metal table fixed to the floor and straps to secure the suspect’s wrists and ankles.”

In Rostov-on-Don, 15-year-old “Sergei” was savagely beaten and suffocated until he lost consciousness twice because the police wanted him to confess to stealing earrings. He signed a confession at knife-point.

Some prisoners who have complained to the courts about being tortured have been sent straight back into police custody to suffer reprisals. State prosecutors routinely fail to charge officials with acts of torture.

On June 27, 2005, 500 prisoners conducted a “self-harm protest” against abuse in the prison colony at Lgov.

The worst case of police brutality occurred in Blagoveshchensk in Bashkortostan in December 2004. After a minor riot between police and locals over arrests, security units rampaged through the town from December 10-14. At least 1000 people were injured, and 2000 rounded-up.

The “extraordinary sweep” was sanctioned by the internal affairs ministry and the local mayor. Some 40 masked police special units terrorised the town, beating detainees. There is evidence that girls were stripped naked in the district internal affairs offices and that rapes took place in a specific room. Marat Khayrullin, a correspondent with the dissident newspaper Novaya Gazeta on which the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya worked, said: “The sanctuary of totalitarianism is what lies in store for us.”

The local prosecutor refused to organise medicals for police victims; a local newspaper which reported the events was closed down, and a man pursuing a claim against the authorities over the abuse of his teenage son was fired from his state job.