Torture in a Volgograd prison, 2009
by Jeremy Putley
How Chechen prisoners are treated under President Dmitry Medvedev
It is a principle universally recognized, in countries governed by the rule of law, that imprisonment following conviction is all the penalty the law allows. Torture of prisoners is not any part of the punishment demanded by society. But in the Russian Federation, under the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, that principle apparently does not apply, considering the evidence of numerous cases of which one of the most shocking is that of an imprisoned Chechen, Zubair Zubairaev.
In a recent report of court proceedings in a French newspaper, the Chechen historian Maerbek Vachagaev testified: “With or without guarantees, a Chechen who is accused of killing police officers does not stay alive for long in a Russian prison.” Mr Zubairaev was not accused of killing a police officer, only of attacking one. For this offence, according to a considerable body of evidence, he has been savagely tortured for a protracted period. The torture has included being nailed to the floor.
Consider the following report from the International Secretariat of the World Organization Against Torture:
According to the information received, in August 2007, Mr. Zubair Isaevich Zubairaev was sentenced to five years in high security prison and sent to prison colony IAR- 154/25 in Frolovo, Volgograd region, where he was tortured by prison colony officers throughout the period he was held there. The acts of torture included severe beatings, also with full plastic bottles, electric shocks, injection of unknown substances, nailing to the ground, and having to stand in the snow with bare feet. He was also placed on several occasions in a punishment cell.
Following complaints on Mr Zubairaev’s situation, he was reportedly admitted to the prison hospital (penitentiary colony ЯР-154/15) in February 2008, where he is still currently being detained. However, according to the same information, instead of receiving adequate medical care and treatment, he was again subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, including beatings, allegedly by the chief of the penitentiary colony and his deputy. Mr Zubairaev was also reportedly threatened with psychiatric internment. In November 2008, the Volgograd regional prosecutor inspected the prison hospital but reportedly found no fault with the prison authorities.
According to the same information received, Mr Zubairaev’s health is extremely poor and, due to several head injuries, he might be suffering from epilepsy. Moreover, he has several wounds on his leg that do not heal. His family has reportedly recently received threats, including by a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, for having denounced his conditions on several occasions.
Amnesty International has taken an interest in the case, and has reported as follows:
Officials at the prison, as well as an official from the Volgograd Public Prosecutor’s office, are said to have verbally threatened Zubair Zubairaev that if he does not stop complaining about his treatment in detention, his prison sentence will be extended or he might “accidentally” die in prison. They also made threats against his family, saying “something might happen” to his sisters.
The latest information is that a human rights activist – one of the few incredibly brave individuals who investigate and report on such cases – called Elena Maglevannaia has been arraigned on charges under article 152 of the Russian Civil Code (honour and business reputation protection), accusing Elena of spreading information on Zubair Zubairaev in order to destroy their good name. The first court hearing has been scheduled for March 26, Thursday, and it will be held in the Kirovskiy district court of Volgograd before Judge Asatiani.
We await the verdict of the court with interest. Will the court order an investigation of the serious and credible allegations of the torture and other maltreatment of Mr Zubairaev? Or will Elena Maglevannaia be found guilty as charged, and sentenced to some form of punishment under what passes for justice in Volgograd these days? Watch this space.