It’s been said that you can judge the level of civilization a country has reached by the way it treats its prisoners. If that is so, Russia still labors in the dark ages.
The Moscow Times reports that, once again, Russia has been convicted of grievous human rights violations by the European Court for Human Rights. This time, it’s not barbaric treatment of dark-skinned minorities that is at issue, but mistreatment of Slavic Russians who are confined to prison. Russians, often obsessed with being treated respectfully by the West, seem utterly heedless about how Russians are treated by Russians, and recklessly indifferent to how they humiliate themselves in the eyes of the world. (For more horrifying facts about Russian prisons, click here).
The European Court of Human Rights has ordered the Russian government to pay more than $20,000 to a prison inmate who was forced to share an 8-square-meter cell with 12 other men. Andrei Frolov, 40, was awarded 15,000 euros ($20,060) in compensatory damages last Thursday. The case sheds light on the harsh conditions endured by many inmates in the country’s prisons. The Strasbourg-based court found no evidence of a “positive intention to humiliate or debate” Frolov. But the fact that he had been “obliged to live, sleep and use the toilet in the same cell with so many other inmates for more than four years was itself sufficient to cause distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention,” the court ruled. The judgment was posted on the court’s web site.
St. Petersburg’s Kresty prison, where Frolov was incarcerated from 1999-2003, was designed for 3,000 inmates, but routinely houses up to 10,000. Frolov was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2001 of robbery, conspiracy and selling stolen property. He was sentenced to 16 years in jail. He was housed in 11 different cells at Kresty, each measuring 8 square meters and equipped with six bunks. Twelve to 14 inmates were kept in the cells, forcing them to sleep in shifts, he testified. Frolov is currently incarcerated at a prison colony in Fornosovo, outside St. Petersburg. During the trial Frolov said “the cells were dimly lit; the ventilation system was blocked; inmates had to make curtains to separate the lavatory pan from the rest of the cell; all the inmates in the cell had six minutes, once a week, to shower together — although there were only six shower heads — with no toiletries,” the court judgment said. A complaint sent by Frolov to the Justice Ministry in June 2001 was rejected and declared “unsubstantiated.” In Strasbourg, the seven-member panel of judges ruled in Frolov’s favor. The facts described by Frolov, including the size and overcrowded state of the cells, and the poor food and hygiene, were not disputed by government representatives.
The conditions endured by Frolov are not unusual in Russian prisons. According to official statistics, the country’s prisons hold more than 870,000 inmates. A recent report compiled by the Council of Europe found that the mortality rate in Russia’s prisons was 20 times higher than the national average.
Nikolai Tarariyev, who was incarcerated in the Krasnodar region, died at the age of 26 of internal bleeding caused by an untreated stomach ulcer. In 2006, the European Court of Human rights awarded his mother 25,000 euros in damages.
Russia paid nearly $500,000 in damages awarded by the Strasbourg court last year. To date, the court has ordered Russia to pay 1.24 million euros ($1.65 million).
Igor Kalyapin, a lawyer and head of the Committee Against Torture, a nongovernmental organization based in Nizhny Novgorod with branches in six regions, including Chechnya, has prepared several successful appeals to the Strasbourg court. The court’s intervention has even saved lives, Kalyapin said. “It was only thanks to [the appeal to the Strasbourg court] that Alexei Mikheyev, a police officer unjustly accused of rape who was tortured for ten days, survived until the trial,” Kalyapin said, adding that Mikheyev’s condition was deteriorating. “He underwent two complicated operations in Oslo, with funding coming from Norwegian NGOs, including a policemen’s union. Needless to say, the police in Nizhny Novgorod responsible for the torture did not pay a penny,” he said.