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Grigory Pasko: Torture and the SCO

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SCO summit against a background of torture

Grigory Pasko, journalist

I recently visited Yekaterinburg. The city is literally flooded with police in reflective vests. The word «security» is heard time and again on the streets. On the television, all the news shows begin with a report about how the capital of Sverdlovsk Oblast is preparing for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Human rights advocates Sergey Beliayev and Vladimir Shakleyin told me about the preparation of a rally in defense of Alexey Sokolov (Vladimir Shakleyin, by the way, is the lawyer of Yelena Maglevannaya, who was successfully sued by the prison authorities of Volgograd Oblast for a 200,000 rubles because she published investigative articles about cases of torture and abuse within the prison system).

It turns out that Sokolov’s experience with the authorities is not all that different, and his supporters are hoping to take advantage of the SCO summit to bring attention to his case.

The leader of the Yekaterinburg human rights organization “PravovayaOsnova” [Legal Basis–Trans.], Alexey Sokolov, was detained and thrown into atemporary holding isolator on a charge of assault related to robbery.  His real crime, argue supporters, is that he likewise dedicated his work to exposing on many human rights violations in the FSINprison system and those committed by the police. While Yelena was lucky to get away with a fine, Alexey unfortunately has been arrested, and thrown into the maw of the very system which he criticized.

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Sokolov recently delivered an open letter to President DmitryMedvedev. He writes in the letter: “Even now, as I am holed up in a temporary isolator of Yekaterinburg, I am observing this perverse practice of obtaining confessions of guilt through beatings. With me in the cell sits a suspect whom theoperative workers of the MVD UrFO drove out into the forest, and hung him from a tree with a towing cable for beatings. Others they beat in offices,demanding they sign confessions.

In an address to society Sokolov clarifies that he came out of thehouse with a two-year-old daughter and was detained by his own entrance.

The website Grani.Ru reports that Sokolov had already warned about thepossibility of provocations being prepared against him back in theautumn of last year. As the Ural’s portal Ura.Ru reported, Sokolovbecame famous after exposing violations in Yekaterinburg correctionalcolony number 2, about which he had made a film, “Torture factory, orPedagogical experience”.

The tape provoked a huge response, and theunlawful practice was suppressed – the powers de facto were forced toadmit the existence of the violations. But Sokolov continued theinvestigation. In recent times, he was attempting to get the employeesof the law-enforcement organs who during the course of several yearshad covered up the crimes taking place in IK-2 to bear punishment.

So while we will undoubtedly hear about friendship and compassion for our Asian partners during the SCO summit, a more uncomfortable truth about the less-than-friendly way Russia treats its own citizens will be there in the shadows.