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Video: Human Rights Abuses at Yekaterinaburg Prison Camp Exposed on Tape

Disclaimer: the video below contains scenes of real violence committed against prison inmates by OMON (Russian police forces). It is not recommended for sensitive viewers. In commemoration of Human Rights Day, I wish I could share good news from my colleagues in Russia – some kind of encouraging developments, a heartening or compelling story, or even a slight improvement or an uncharacteristic gesture of bravery or morality. Instead I’ve been in contact with the human rights activist Lev Ponomarev, who when not writing for this blog or getting arrested during pro-democracy rallies, is one of Russia’s leading defenders of the rights of prisoners. Lev and his organization, “Foundation for the Defence of Prisoners,” only very recently obtained possession of a secret video made in 2006 by a prison guard of a “Preventative Actions” exercise by the OMON (special police squad) performed at a prison camp in Yekaterinaburg. The appalling instances of beatings, torture, inhumane treatment and excessive and arbitrary violence shown in this recording inarguably represent a fundamental violation of human rights. Lev was dramatically successful in using the video to raise awareness of this atrocity – against all odds he was able to get a tiny portion of the tape shown on REN-TV very late night, which is a total anomaly for state-run television. Lev then provided the footage to us so that we could offer an unedited view into the horrendous reality that is the Russian penal system to the general public. Such images should compell both Russians and the wider world to react with vocal outrage and denounce these abuses, yet I fear that we can rest assured that under today’s government, no one will be doing anything about this. We are dealing with an institutional cynicism and near total lack of humanitarian inclination among today’s Kremlin leadership, whose established patterns of lawlessness and impunity put the basic rights of all citizens at great risk. In light of only this small sample of the state’s abuses, it is time for the international community to change the terms of the debate over human rights in Russia. Stay tuned here for more footage, interviews and information on these cases.