Nord Ost siege to be reopened

On 14 February 14 2011 the Moscow prosecutors have reversed the decision to close the criminal case into the Nord-Ost terrorist attack in October 2002. Igor Trunov, a lawyer and representative of the victimes, told the Interfax news agency. According to Trunov, the Moscow’s Investigative Committee is due to check whether all of the terrorists were killed during the storming. Background to the case here.

Memorial accuses Russian law enforcement agencies of abducting and torturing ordinary Muslims in Moscow

The Memorial human rights group accused law enforcement agencies of kidnapping and torturing ordinary Muslims in Moscow as part of the government’s broadening fight against Islamist extremism. Memorial said in a report that at least eight Russian citizens from the North Caucasus had been kidnapped since September by law enforcement agencies in Moscow.

“People are picked up on the street or outside metro stations,” Svetlana Gannushkina, in charge of migration rights at the group, said in an interview.

“Whether it’s the police or other law enforcement agencies, it’s done in the name of fighting extremism. But no one tries to differentiate between extremists and Islamists and people who peacefully practice their religion,” she said.

She said that before the recent cases, kidnappings happened so rarely that Memorial did not feel the need to count them.

Neither the Federal Security Service nor the police was immediately available for comment on the report.

Memorial said many of those kidnapped were laborers from the North Caucasus who came to Moscow looking for work. It is unclear whether any of the victims might be linked to the insurgency.

In October, two Dagestani natives were kidnapped in Moscow after police street checks, Memorial said in the report, citing one of the men who was later released.

Makhmood R., as he was identified in the report, said he and his friend, Mirza Mamayev, were stopped by law enforcement officers outside a metro station and led away where they were beaten unconscious by men in camouflage police uniforms.

They were kept for seven days in a single dark cell with their hands and feet tied, until Makhmood R. was released.

Memorial chairman Oleg Orlov said the group was planning on taking several such cases to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights in the coming months.

He said, “We will be taking the cases to the court showing that the kidnappings are being carried out on purpose.”

The report comes as the federal government struggles to contain violence in the North Caucasus — a region where an increasingly tough insurgency killed 1,000 people in 2009.

The North Caucasus remains volatile a decade after federal forces drove separatists out of power in the second of two wars in Chechnya. Many law enforcement officers working in Moscow are veterans of one of those wars.

During the Kurban Bairam Muslim holiday last November, Muslims in Moscow complained of being manhandled by police nearby their mosques, which were overflowing with worshippers.

In December, Moscow police struggled to tame 7,000 angry young people who gathered near Red Square, shouting racist slogans and attacking passers-by who appeared to look non-Slavic.

Russian Federation Invests in Enhanced Surveillance

On January 28, 2011, Russian media outlets reported that on January 11, 2011, the government had issued a resolution approving a two-year program of investing in high technology in the field of security. The program, which was recommended by the President’s Commission on Modernization and Technological Development, entrusts the FSB with the responsibility of spending 633 million RUB (approximately US$30 million) in order to develop methods and equipment for advanced surveillance.

The program consists of two parts: voice biometrics, which is focused on voice synthesis and identification and better understanding of vocal messages transmitted by technical means; and automatic video recognition aimed at mechanical discerning of targets in real time. A database of targets, associated personal images, and identified voices must be created by 2012. Placing the FSB in charge of this program was viewed by Russian commentators as a further expansion of this secret service’s authority, in line with allowing it to conduct independent genetic analysis of remains allegedly belonging to terrorists and of those who have been identified as relatives of terrorists (id.). At present, independent forensic centers are performing these tasks. A relevant amendment to the FSB Law was introduced in the State Duma. (Bill No. 493009-5 (submitted on Jan. 27, 2011)

2008 Cable describes the Russian prison system

Cable 08MOSCOW531 from February 2008 describes the Russian prison system. In contrast to other Western countries, the system is foremost focused on punishment, not rehabilitation, and while statisics are difficult to compare, produces a lower rate of recidivism. Recent prison riots, new prisoner shock tactics, and smuggled videos of prison mistreatment have highlighted the cruelties and corruption in the system. According to the Embassy ‘the insurmountable challenges posed by the physical and cultural nature of the prison system mean that efforts to improve conditions or to alter the character of the system from punishment to rehabilitation are likely to produce only superficial improvements.’

The Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments (FSIN), part of the Ministry of Justice, administers more than 700 Russian jails and prisons across the country (this cable does not address the military prison system operated by the Ministry of Defense). There are four levels of incarceration as prisoners move through the justice system: temporary police custody facilities for those held pending charges; pretrial detention facilities (SIZOs) for those charged with crimes; lower-security correctional labor colonies (ITKs); and high-security prisons for more dangerous prisoners and for those who violate the rules of ITKs.

The authorities use a two-tier system of administration. The prison officials and the guards protect the perimeter of the facilities and provide the upper layer of security, but then they elevate select prisoners to act as internal enforcers among the other prisoners. These elite prisoners receive privileges and protections in return for enforcing a brutal form of order within the prisons.

The low pay and low prestige of prison administrators and guards, combined with a lack of oversight and accountability, have created an abusive system rife with cruelty and corruption.

According to FSIN statistics, as of July, there were approximately 889,600 people in the custody of the criminal justice system, including 63,000 women and 12,100 juveniles. This rate of 630 prisoners per 100,000 citizens is second in the world only to the United States (702 per 100,000).The number of prisoners has increased in recent years. Compared to July 2005, the total number of prisoners has increased by 101,000 ( 13 percent), the number of women prisoners increased by 15,000 ( 31 percent), and the number of juvenile prisoners decreased by 2,400 (-17 percent).

During the last year, there have been scattered reports of uprisings in prisons, including a revolt and jailbreak at the youth prison in Togliatti (Samara Oblast).

The prison system incorporates Russia’s vast distances and harsh climate into the system of punishment. Although the law states that prisoners should not be incarcerated outside the region where they lived or were convicted unless local prisons are overcrowded, this rule is routinely disregarded.

Prison guards still rely heavily on traditional forms of violence and deprivation to maintain control. Solitary confinement for long periods (sometimes longer than one year) while illegal is reportedly used, and some isolation cells are too small for the inmate to fully stretch out lying down. In what Ponomarev said was a typical incident, he showed us a video filmed by a guard and sent anonymously to For Prisoners’ Rights. The video, since posted on YouTube, shows prison guards marching out prisoners in a Sverdlovsk Oblast prison past dogs. Some prisoners were then stripped to the waist, stretched out over tables, and then beaten with billy clubs by the guards. “This is routine behavior,” said Ponomarev, “what is different is that it was recorded.”

Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told the Ambassador in a February 7 meeting (Ref B) that prison conditions were one of the most important issues for him, but that he had difficulty gaining unfettered access to the prisons and that prison authorities were the main obstacle he faced in addressing prisoners’ human rights complaints. Lukin said that the FSIN was slowly improving conditions, and that new construction fixed many of the problems of sanitation and overcrowding.

On February 22, a Moscow court acting on a complaint by FSIN Director Kalinin filed a suit against Ponomarev for defamation. The suit is based upon a November 2006 interview with Regnum.ru where Ponomarev called FSIN Director Kalinin the “author” of the system in which select prisoners enforce order and discipline on others. Ponomarev also described a network of 40 “torture prisons” and alleged that torture, beating, and rape (or the threat thereof) were used to extract confessions and control prisoners. The prosecutor’s complaint did not take issue with Ponomarev’s characterization of the system or the allegations of torture in the prisons, but focused instead on the fact that it was a Ministry of Justice decree that established the system, not Kalinin himself. If found guilty, Ponomarev faces up to three years of first-hand experience inside the prison system.

Russia Uses Extremism Law to Target Dissenters

Rights activists say the vaguely worded legislation, first passed in 2002, is increasingly being exploited by the authorities to persecute religious minorities, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, intimidate the media and clamp down on opposition activists. The law — ostensibly aimed at combating potential terrorist threats — was used earlier this year to fine two prominent Moscow curators a combined 350,000 roubles ($11,300) over an controversial Pop Art exhibition in Moscow and to impose a ban on the popular Internet portal YouTube in Russia’s Far East.

Prosecutors can move fast to outlaw texts, which are then included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials — an ever-growing catalog that ran to over 50 pages in its latest print version.The ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ basic texts has spurred over 150 police detentions and searches in a three-month period alone, according to SOVA.

Prosecutors typically seek out an “expert review” and submit the material to a local court, but analysts say the reviews are slanted, courts are pliable, and higher courts rarely overturn their decisions.

Russia condemned for continued failure to investigate indiscriminate bombardment of a Chechen village

The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of article 2 in the case Abuyeva and Others v. Russia. The case concerned the applicants’ allegation that 24 of their relatives died during the bombardment on their village in February 2000. Some of the applicants also complained about injuries they had sustained during the attack. The Court found in particular that, despite its finding in a previous judgment (Isayeva v. Russia of 24 February 2005) concerning the same events, the ensuing new investigation into the bombardment had been plagued by exactly the same defects and invited the Committee of Ministers, the executive arm of the Council of Europe, which supervises the execution of the Court’s judgments, to address the issue.

Diaries of Russian official show abuses in Chechen wars

The Sunday Times article, “The War in Chechnya: Diary of a Killer,” offers a front-line account of characteristic forms of Russian-Chechen
campaigns — roundups, torture, extrajudicial executions of detained
rebels and the almost casual killing of civilians who happen to be in
the way.