Grigory Pasko: Is Everything Fine in Russia’s Camps?

Is Everything Fine in Russia’s Camps? Apparently, even the President of Russia wants to know By Grigory Pasko, exclusive to Russia’s chief prosecutor, Procurator-General Yuri Chaika, recently held a press conference in Moscow. The government official touched upon many topics, including that ex-YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovsky may face new charges, if the evidence can be gathered. This statement, in my opinion, says more strongly than anything else can to the fact that today’s power in Russia has no intention of leaving Mikhail Khodorkovsky alone, let alone releasing him on parole before his full sentence is up. Furthermore, as passions rise in the run-up to the State Duma elections, and then the presidential elections in 2008, even more radical measures are likely in respect to this disgraced convict. The recent spate of murders and poisonings of Russian citizens, which has resonated throughout the entire world, gives reason to doubt that president Putin is really in charge of things in the country and in control of the situation. It is obvious that there are people (some call them the “third term party”) who want to get Putin entangled in bloody events so as not to give him a chance to avoid the temptation of becoming president for a third time. The events unfolding today in Russia make for a depressing picture, despite all the efforts of the propagandists to present reality in a rosy light. Particularly ugly is the situation in correctional institutions. The conditions under which prisoners are held are so alarming that even the chairwoman of the Council to Promote the Development of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights under the president of the RF, Ella Pamfilova, has begun to speak about them. Recently, she expressed her dissatisfaction with the work of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments (FSIN) [Translator’s note: the direct successor of the notorious GULag, the agency in charge of the prison system] to the president of Russia. “The significant increase in the number of complaints in recent times from places of imprisonment is associated with the fact that the system has become more closed. In all previous years, they worked actively with the human rights community, but now, access has become restricted not only to human rights workers, but even to human rights ombudsmen in the regions, human rights representatives”, Pamfilova explained to the president. In her talk with the president, Pamfilova underscored that the opportunities to file appeals have been reduced for prisoners, and especially for those with respect to who have been unjustly convicted. A few days ago, representatives of several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, met in Moscow. They spoke about coming up with proposals which, in the opinion of the human rights advocates, they must bring to the attention of the president of Russia with the aim of changing the situation in the organizational units of FSIN. Among others, these proposals included some such as these: 1. It is necessary to have a constructive dialog between the human rights community, independent experts, and representatives of governments services. 2. To create an expert-consultative council of FSIN with the inclusion in this council of former corrections officers, prosecutors, retired judges, etc., who have a wealth of experience in dealing with the everyday issues affecting the criminal justice and correctional systems. 3. To create a Council of Prisoners’ Relatives, in which the friends of prisoners or their work colleagues could also be encouraged to participate. Such a Council could help quickly solve some of the problems arising in the correctional system and bring prison conditions closer to international standards. 4. The work of receiving citizens with personal questions by various services of institutions must be qualitatively improved. 5. Desk duty by senior officers at centers for receiving citizens and for receiving packages ought to be organized; this will allow for the establishment of relations of trust between the administration of institutions and the relatives of prisoners. 6. In order to reduce the social tension in places of deprivation of liberty and to increase the level of trust by the populace towards the organs, the authorities must have great openness of FSIN. 7. To regularly (on a quarterly basis) conduct joint press conferences by FSIN on questions associated with the state of medical services in correctional institutions. It is noteworthy that Representatives of Amnesty International recently met with FSIN officials. At the meeting, they expressed concern in connection with the complaints they have been receiving. Among others, they spoke of the so called Premises Functioning in the Regime of Investigative Isolators (PFRSI) – the use of separate buildings in a penal colony to hold persons on remand. By the way, in November of this year in Geneva, the UN Committee Against Torture (abbreviated CAP) looked at the situation with torture in Russia. In the words of Tatiana Lokshina, a representative of the Moscow Helsinki Group, there were no heavyweights reporting before the Committee Against Torture about [Translator’s note: in?] Russia’s name. The only people who came were deputy departments heads from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the head of the Ministry of Defense legal department. The highest-ranking person in this unimpressive “group of comrades” was the deputy director of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments, Oleg Filimonov. And placed at the head of the delegation was Valery Loshchinin, permanent representative of Russia at the Geneva branch of the UN. Loshchinin, in particular, expressed regret with respect to there not having been coordination with the visit to Russia by Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, and promised that everything would be fine. He told that while there are individual excesses, the state is successfully battling with them. While the murder of Politkovskaya is being actively investigated. And that the state is working together with NGOs. That is, as the hero of one Soviet cartoon used to say, “all is quiet in Baghdad”. In actuality, of course, the situation in Russian jails and camps continues to remain alarming. And evidence of this are the thousands of complaints from prisoners that have already made it to the International Court of Human Rights. That is, we are once again witness to a double-handed game: on the one hand, the president seems to be showing concern about the situation in the country’s correctional system; on the other – his officials insist that everything’s normal. Reports about the conditions under which Mikhail Khodorkovsky is serving his sentence in a penal colony get lost against the background of all these events. But this does not mean that his life and his health are not in danger. If the Procurator-General is promising a new round of prosecutions with respect to someone who has already been convicted, then you can be sure of one thing – this round will take place. All the more so in light of the fact that, in Chaika’s own words, “investigation of the main criminal case continues”.