The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) is considering tougher punishment, including extra prison time, for inmates who use mobile phones, Izvestia daily reported on Tuesday.
A source from the Federal Penitentiary Service said tougher punishment for mobile phone use is needed to maintain discipline and order inside prisons.
But rights activists say the move is aimed at stemming a stream of complaints from prisoners who use the phones to report beatings and other abuses in prisons and jails.
Russian prisons currently prohibit mobile phones. A prisoner caught with one faces up to 10 days in solitary confinement. But prison officials say that has not been an effective deterrent.
Despite regular monitoring and checks, prisons and penal colonies are literally flooded with the phones.
Prison employees complain that prisoners can use the phones to tip off accomplices concerning investigations, to help destroy evidence and to intimidate witnesses.
But groups that work with the prison population say the phones are a lifeline for inmates. “Almost all the complaints we get are via phones and the internet, so we even opened a special ‘hot line,’” said Vladimir Osechkin, the head of one such group, Gulagu.net.
He mentioned incidents that occurred in just the past month at penal colonies in the Tula, Chelyabinsk and Omsk regions, and in Bashkortostan and Karelia.
“In all cases, convicts reported beatings and abuses by phone and attached photos to their complaints,” Osechkin said. “If they had complained by mail, there would have been no evidence: all their bruises would have disappeared by the time an investigation began.”
A bill to authorize mobile phone use by prisoners is already being discussed on the Open Government website, he said.
The measure will also combat corruption, he said, by taking the illegal phone trade out of the hands of crooked jailors, whereas stiffer penalties for phone use will only increase the price they collect from inmates.