On the conditions in Penal Colony No.6 in Kopeisk, Russia
“If you want to live, you pay them.”
On Saturday, November 24st, 2012, hundreds of prisoners at Penal Colony No.6 in Kopeisk, Russia walked out onto the roofs of the prison with banners in order to protest the horrific conditions inside. The signs, some of them allegedly written in blood, plead for help. The protest led to a violent confrontation between the police and the prisoners’ relatives gathered outside the prison gates—the protest had been staged on a visitors’ day.
The following are three testimonies: the first a statement from Valeria Prikhodkina, a member of the Public Monitoring Committee of the Chelyabinsk region; next, a description of conditions inside Penal Colony No.6 from former inmate Mikhail Ermuraki, who was released in April 2012; and, finally, human rights activist Nikolai Shur’s interview with Russian independent news site slon.ru upon visiting the prison on Tuesday.
Public Monitoring Committee, Chelyabinsk
[Source: Bolshoi Gorod. Published November 25, 2012]
Saturday was visiting day at the prison. People started coming early in the morning, some having traveled long distances. All visitors were stopped at the prison gates without explanation. Something was going on inside. Suddenly, the riot police stormed into the prison along with other police forces and even fire trucks. The visiting relatives began to panic.
The inmates had organized a strike; they went out into the prison yard and refused to go back inside.
More relatives gathered at the gates. By evening, it seemed that military operations were underway inside the colony: you could hear screams, people were running on the roofs, and then prisoners hung out a sheet with the message “People, help us” written on it. Members of the Public Monitoring Committee arrived, but they were not admitted into the prison. After they left at around 23:00, a bloodbath began. The police beat the prisoners with sticks, indiscriminately and swinging wildly.
From among our colleagues, only Oksana Trufanova stayed. She met the prison warden and was told that the prisoners had captured the watchtower and that she would not be allowed inside. She went into the grounds as far as she could and then left when she found she could go no further. While we were talking to her on the phone, we suddenly heard screams and the line went dead. It turned out that the riot police had attacked the assembled crowd of relatives to disperse them. Oksana was hit on the head with a police club and she lost consciousness. I don’t know anything about the drunken young people they’re talking about in official reports. I think it’s just nonsense. Who visits prisons? Mothers, wives—they’d been standing at the shut prison gates in the cold since the morning.
This particular penal colony is, of course, problematic, and we tend to visit it more often than we do other places.
If you come to a prison and the prisoners don’t say anything or tell you everything’s fine, that’s no reason to believe that it’s a regular Young Pioneer summer camp. Prisoners only start speaking when they can’t take it anymore and believe it can’t get any worse. Apparently that’s what happened in Kopeisk.
We are currently reviewing the case of Nikolai Korovkin along with the prosecutor’s office. Investigators have kept themselves busy by refusing all our requests since June. We have a lot of evidence that he was simply beaten to death. The authorities claim he died of late stage AIDS. The problem with that story is that he only spent two months in the penal colony after his trial. So either something happened to him in prison or they sent a gravely ill man to the penal colony. We have found someone who witnessed the beating.
Another prisoner, Daniil Abakumov, when he wound up in a pretrial detention facility, disclosed details and wrote a statement. But then they sent him back to the colony. I can’t even talk about what happened to him after that, but there is video of his testimony online. We’re talking about extortion, beatings, rape—in a word, torture.
Why does all of this go on? They’re trying to shake the relatives down for money. I don’t know whether it’s for themselves or for the colony as whole. Prisons in Russia are being reformed right now, and the penal colonies are supposed to be outfitted to European standards. But they don’t have the money for it. And so the relatives are paying for everything from fans to game consoles. You want to be paroled? That will cost you. Do you want your son or husband to be safe from beatings? That will cost you.
There aren’t standard rates—they stop at nothing. Someone was bringing them desk lamps, someone else, toilets. And the relatives were the ones who took out the loans, who actually bought these toilets, in exchange for parole. Parents are constantly complaining that their children are completely eligible for parole but it is not being granted because they can’t afford to pay the authorities. They were extorting money from Korovkin as well.
There are rumors that if a prisoner complains, they break his hands. I don’t have any proof of this, but this kind of injury, fractured fingers, is very common in the Chelyabinsk region, and often ends in amputation. Especially in this colony, where there have been several cases. No one will say what happened. And what would you say if they broke your fingers?
Yes, this penal colony is mostly populated with “maximum security” inmates, repeat offenders. But the government admits that 30% of the incarcerated are there undeservedly, while in reality the number is even greater. As human rights advocates, we are not concerned about what people are in prison for. People are people. They have been convicted and sentenced to incarceration. No law legislates slave labor, humiliation, round-the-clock beatings and torturous conditions.