Zek Week: Lev Ponomarev – Kalinin and the Torture Zones

For our second installment of Zek Week, we are featuring an extended statement from Lev Ponomarev last year on the resignation of Russia’s prisons czar Yuri Kalinin and how his administration allowed for the establishment of so-called “Torture Zones” within Russia’s federal penitentiary system. Ponomarev’s descriptions of prison protocols are nothing less than chilling, and at times, shocking: for example, some prison wardens actively assign certain immates the right to commit acts of violence as a control measure. (Here you can read the intro to Zek Week and the first Ponomarev article). Lev Ponomarev: Under Kalinin, 40 torture zones have appeared in Russia At the request of IA REGNUM, information about the resignation of director of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments Yuri Kalinin was commented on by executive director of the All-Russian Public Movement “For human rights” Lev Ponomarev. “I hope that this resignation will be accepted”, he said. “This will allow our system of the execution of punishments [correctional system–Trans.] to be humanized. It is considered that a cetain humanization of places of confinement took place under Kalinin. Indeed, funds were allocated, new isolators were built, and conditions of confinement changed for the better. But at the same time, the regime became harsher. We are receiving reports about how prisoners are being forced to march and sing songs, they are undressing them naked… All this is reminiscent of what took place in the Abu Ghraib prison.” “Although Yuri Kalinin said many times that this is human rights activists together with criminal “authorities” [the criminal hierarchy–Trans.] who are destabilizing the situation in the colonies, in actuality it was precisely his activities that have destabilized the situation in the colonies”, underscored Lev Ponomarev. “Kalinin is the author of the system which is being established more and more in the colonies; this system is sadistic. If before, there existed only the so-called “press-huts”, then now already entire colonies are being transformed into “press-zones”. According to the data our organization has at its disposal, we have compiled a list of 40 colonies that we consider to be torture colonies. Mass violations of the rights of prisoners and mass protest actions in the form of hunger strikes and self-mutilation have taken place there. The reputation of these zones is such that people cut their veins just not to end up there.” “In many regions there is no torture, although there are problems everywhere, of course”, noted Ponomarev. “A normal situation, for example, in the colonies of Krasnodar Kray, Smolensk Oblast, but there are monstrous Mordovian camps, there are torture zones in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, in Udmurtia, in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Given that there are more than 600 colonies in all of Russia, 40 press-zones is much.” “The essence of this system is in that every new arrival in such a colony is offered to sign up for a so-called amateur organization under the name “section of discipline and order”, clarified the human rights advocate. “Convicts who enter into it, together with red armbands receive additional benefits, and certain powers of the administration are transferred to them, but the main thing is that they receive the right to violence. If we speak in the language of prisoners, such “activists” are called “spun” [ssuchennye]. This is people of not the best moral qualities, and, of course, they arouse hatred. The relations in which they are found with the rest of the prisoners resemble hazing in the army. The functions that they carry out can be compared with the functions of a “kapo” in German concentration camps. They carry out the dirty work, including forcing other prisoners to sign up for the section of discipline and order. This is done in order to morally break a person. In the event of a refusal (and any person having a sense of his own dignity will refuse to sign up for such an “amateur organization”), he is subjected not only to violence on the part of the “spun”, but also to punishments, which the administration of the colony imposes. In particular, a former convict appealed to us – a person who was locked up after he had given testimony in the capacity of a witness at a trial against policemen. In confinement he began to help other convicts assert their rights. For this he was subjected to persecutions of the administration and spent two years in solitary! He practically unlearned how to speak in this time. And this punishment was imposed on him without a court decision – simply upon the decision of the administration of the colony. We have observed such a conveyor for destroying a person’s sense of self, in particular in the Lgov colony.” “In addition to this”, proposed Lev Ponomarev, “in recent years participants in the sections of discipline and order fulfill yet another job. Under the pretext of overcrowding at investigative isolators, so-called facilities functioning in the regime of investigative isolators (PFRSI), where persons under investigation are held, are created on the territory of colonies. Convicts – members of the sections – enter there unimpeded and beat testimony of admission [of guilt] out of those persons under investigation on whom they are indicated. In so doing, torture, beatings, assaults, threats of torture, beatings, and assaults are applied. Such took place massively, for example, on the territory of IK-2 in Ekaterinburg. Right now we are conducting a criminal case on the company “DDT”, all the the figurants of which had gone through IK-2, and all had been tortured. Now the case is found in court, and the defendants are determined to refute their testimony, given under torture. It is interesting, however, that despite the fact that a torture investigative isolator is found on its territory, IK-2 itself is considered a model colony. All the examiners are brought there, including foreigners. It is famous, in particular by the fact that there is a pet corner there with a live crocodile.” “Such people,” underscored Lev Ponomarev, returning to the activists of the sections of discipline and order, “who carry out the role of torturers, are themselves regularly beaten up. Just today we received information from Kemerovo Oblast about how on 31 October in IK-5 in Kemerovo a member of the SDO who had beaten and assaulted two eighteen-year-old convicts had been killed by the other prisoners. A second convict, also a member of the section of discipline and order, who had taken part in assaulting and beating, received traumas and has been hospitalized. And in the summer in that same colony as the result of a cruel beating by members of the SDO one prisoner died, while another suffered gravely.” “We have been saying for a long time that the sections of discipline and order need to be liquidated. In this way we can save hundreds of people”, underscored Ponomarev. “Under Kalinin there arose a full closedness of the system of the execution of punishments,” continued the human rights defender. “It was specifically he who gave the command not to let human rights advocates and journalists into places of deprivation of liberty. Sometimes they will not even let lawyers into colonies. I myself ran up against this, when I attempted to meet with Mikhail Trepashkin – they refused me, explaining honestly that a command had come from Moscow.” “I hope that Yuri Kalinin’s successor will not follow in his footsteps”, summarized he. In the opinion of Lev Ponomarev, a consequence of the resignation of Yuri Kalinin may become also a return of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments to the subordination of the Ministry of Justice of the RF.