Staunton, January 31 – Between 40 and 60 percent of Russians under arrest are tortured by their jailors before they are convicted, according to St. Petersburg criminologist Yakov Gilinsky. And that means, he says, that approximately four percent of the entire population of the country is subject to torture every year.
Speaking in Moscow last week, Gilinsky said that he and his colleagues had studied the situation regarding torture in five regions of the Russian Federation – St. Petersburg, Komi, Pskov, Nizhny Novgorod and Chita – in 2005-2006 when they came up with these disturbing statistics (openrussia.org/post/view/2365/).
The St. Petersburg criminologist said that he understood perfectly well that he couldn’t ask people “where and how were you tortured?” To do so would have meant that he and his colleagues would have been forever denied access to jails and prisons and thus would not have been able to monitor the situation.
Instead, Gilinsky said, his researchers asked “what is torture?” and “”how should it be defined?” We told respondents what torture was and then asked “if you in the course of the previous year … had been subjected to this as formulated and written down on the questionnaire, then tell us about it.”
He said his survey was as representative as others conducted in Russia because it involved more than the usual number of respondents: In St. Petersburg alone, Gilinsky said, he and his colleagues talked to more than 2,000 people and in the other four regions a similar number, far more than the 1500 most polling agencies use.
“More than that,” the criminologist continued, he said he had “been involved in practical work for many years” in this area. Today, he works in the Academy of the Office of the Procurator General, and thus it comes as no surprise to him that torture is going on “throughout the entire territory of the Russian Federation.”
“That is how it was in 2005-2006,” Gilinsky said. “Today the situation has not improved.”
What should be done? According to the criminologist, a major first step would to decriminalize half of the actions listed in the Criminal Code. Some of them should be classified as administrative violations and others should simply be eliminated altogether. That would reduce the flow of people through the criminal justice system.
Other actions that should be taken, Gilinsky said, are the elimination of the death penalty, the creation of an independent judiciary not controlled by the administration and capable of supervising the jails and prisons, the establishment of a separate juvenile justice system, and “of course, the formation of a liberal democratic sense of justice in the population.”
Moreover, he said, “it is necessary to conduct many [other] reforms: the reform of the police, the reform of the penal system from top to bottom,” and the effective introduction of minimal standards of the treatment of prisoners as proclaimed in Russian and European legislation.
“It would be naïve to hope for the achievement of all these proposals in contemporary Russia,” Gilinsky said. “But let us hope that all this will be achieved in a future one.”