Staunton, November 13 – In a tragic confirmation of truth behind Stalin’s dictum that a single death is a tragedy but a million is only a statistic, media coverage of the horrific beating of Ildar Dadin by his Russian jailors has attracted widespread attention both in the Russian Federation and around the world, despite past neglect of this issue.
But fortunately and at least potentially hopefully, an increasing number of people have not accepted the notion that what happened in his case – and officials are trying to deny everything -- was some kind of isolated incident but have begun to recognize that it was and is a manifestation of the nature of the Russian penal system under the rule of Vladimir Putin.
Rights groups have long recognized that reality. Sergey Nikiti, head of Amnesty International Russia, for example said that Dadin’s reports “of beatings, humiliation and rape threats are shocking, but unfortunately they are just the latest in a string of credible reports indicating that torture and other ill treatment are being widely used in the Russian penal system” (amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/russia-shocking-new-torture-allegations-by-prisoner-of-conscience-must-be-investigated/).
In the last two weeks, more people have come forward to document this reality and to point out that the Russian prison system under Putin is not only a criminal enterprise but one that is directed to those the regime does not consider part of its much-ballyhooed single Russian nation, the Muslims and members of the LGBT community in particular.
Because the authorities have no interest in information about torture leaking out, because those who are its victims know they may suffer more if they complain, and because Russia’s penal system is underfunded and not the focus of Kremlin attention, there are no good statistics about just how much torture there is.
But in an interview with Konstantin Amelyushkin of Lithuania’s Delfi news agency, Olga Romanova, the head of the Russia in Prison organization, says the problem is widespread among Russia’s more than 650,000 incarcerated (ru.delfi.lt/news/live/glava-dvizheniya-rus-sidyaschaya-situaciya-izmenitsya-esli-v-tyurme-zapytayut-kakogo-nibud-gubernatora.d?id=72795366).
Only three times since Putin became president have outsiders paid attention to the issue of torture in Russian prisons: when Sergey Magnitsky died, when the former head of the Federal Penal Agency was accused of malfeasance, and now with the case of Ildar Dadin, Romanova says. With so little attention, it isn’t surprising that the problem has festered and grown.
The only way to end the problem is publicity, both in individual cases and in terms of the system as a whole. And she points to one of the major problems: those the regimes views as political prisoners are more likely to be tortured than are ordinary criminals, a revival of the Stalin-era distinction between “socially close” and “socially alien” groups.
Others this week have developed this idea further. Yuliya Suguyeva says that followers of Islam are almost always at risk. For the country’s jailors, she says, “any observant Muslim is already a religious extremist” and deserving the most oppressive treatment (kavkazr.com/a/kak-narushautsa-prava-musulman-v-rossiyskih-turmah/28112962.html).
And Ilya Polonsky of the Svobodnaya pressa-Yug portal, says that sexual minorities in general and trans-sexuals in particular, both of which are portrayed by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin as aliens, are also among those who are likely to be tortured on a regular and vicious manner (yug.svpressa.ru/accidents/article/141738/).