The horrid state of Russia‘s prisons has been thrown into the spotlight following an uprising at a jail and the airing of a video that shows prison guards beating an inmate until he begs for mercy.
The six-minute long video, removed from YouTube but later put on a Russian site, shows a group of shaven-headed men in blue police camouflage uniform punching an inmate in the stomach, slapping his face and head, and kicking him repeatedly after he falls to the ground in pain.
The inmate, called “Marat” by his torturers, begs for mercy, saying: “Please forgive me. I won’t do it any more. Please stop.” His hands are bound behind his back with handcuffs.
Russia’s federal prison service said the video was recorded at a prison colony in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. It accused the inmate, a 20-year-old man who had been sentenced to three and a half years for assault, of failing to abide by the rules once he arrived at the prison colony by refusing to give up his civilian clothes for a prison uniform.
“Having arrived at the establishment, inmate M behaved in an extremely challenging way, expressing his unhappiness with the detention regime and categorically refusing to meet the legitimate demands of the staff – to give up his civilian clothes and change into the required uniform,” a statement from the regional prison service branch said.
It said that six people had taken part in the beating, two of whom had been fired from serving in Russia’s prison system before the incident. Three of the prison employees have been detained, it said.
The video went viral days after hundreds of inmates at a prison colony in Kopeysk, near the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, staged a rare and daring protest against abuse, torture and poor conditions.
Video and photographs from the day-long protest showed inmates standing atop the prison’s buildings, some with white banners reading: “People, help!” and “People are tortured, humiliated”. Around 250 inmates reportedly took part in the protest. Riot police clashed with relatives who had gathered outside the prison’s barbed-wired walls as news of the protest broke. Eight were left injured.
With around 800,000 Russians in jail, Russia has the third largest prison population in the world, behind the United States and China. It has the second highest incarceration rate in the world, after Rwanda, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.
Human rights activists regularly complain of violence in Russian prisons and argue that conditions are little changed from the Soviet era.
A report by the UN Committee Against Torture released last week harshly criticised Russia for failing to investigate widespread claims of torture inside its prisons. It also said that human rights activists and journalists focusing on Russia’s prison system were coming under increasing pressure.