Russian officials have confirmed the beating deaths of four inmates at a prison in the Ural Mountains, allegedly at the hands of their guards. Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from VOA's Moscow Bureau.
Russian officials say the deaths occurred Saturday at the Kopeysk Penal Colony Number One in the Ural Mountains region of Chelyabinsk. Elena Kalinina, a representative of the local investigator's office explained the alleged circumstances in a telephone interview with VOA.
Kalinina says the inmates had recently been transferred to the prison. During an exercise walk, they allegedly did not follow orders, so they were handcuffed and physical force was used against them. She says the prisoners were then placed in separate cells. By evening, their condition deteriorated so medical technicians were called, but they could not save the victims.
Kalinina says a preliminary examination indicates the inmates died of post-traumatic shock resulting from soft tissue hemorrhage. She notes that the investigation is looking into alleged violations of two articles of the Russian criminal code: 286 for exceeding official authority through use of excessive force or methods that result in serious consequences; and 111 for inflicting serious injury that results in death. The penalty for excessive use of force is ten years in prison and 15 years for causing an individual's death.
Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev of Russia's independent For Human Rights organization told VOA that the group received many letters from the Kopeysk prison complaining of torture and very harsh conditions. Ponomarev says urgent prison reforms are needed, beginning with the replacement of senior officials who he says have done nothing to improve conditions that have existed in Russian prisons for decades. He says the current approach to prison inspection is unacceptable.
First of all human rights activists must now provide administrators with advance notice to conduct inspections, which Ponomarev says makes no sense, because officials have learned how to hide people. He adds that it's ridiculous, even stupid, to interview prisoners in the presence of corrections officials.
Russian authorities say there will also be an investigation of alleged gross misconduct by prisoners themselves, which may have led to disorder at the Kopeysk penal colony.