Monday, November 5, 2018

Few Russians Following Prison Torture Stories and Many Accept Mistreatment of Inmates as Normal

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 4 – Nearly three out of four Russians told Levada Center pollsters that the first they had heard about torture in Russian prisons was when the sociologists asked them about it, and more than one in three – 35 percent – said they accepted the mistreatment of inmates as something normal.

            On the one hand, Denis Volkov of the polling agency says, these results highlight the reality that even when something is covered in the best media outlets in Moscow, a large share of Russians don’t follow it because they rely on other sources where the story either is ignored or played down (

                And on the other, they reflect public attitudes not just about torture but about any negative phenomena. Russians are ready to accept reports about individual problems but not to generalize on the basis even of repeated stories about what is going on, a disturbing echo of Soviet media practice where criticism was permissible but generalization was prohibited.

                Other experts with whom the RBC journalists spoke have a different take. Asmik Novikov, the head of research for the Public Verdict Foundation, says that “torture is a very narrow them and to expect the overwhelming majority to be up to date on it is incorrect. This isn’t something which disturbs everyone.”

                “Our society,” he continues, “still shows a high level of tolerance to force and tortures.” Individual cases may attract attention and criticism but the broader phenomenon remains unexamined and unconsidered.

            And Bulat Mukhamedzhanov of the Zone of Law Organization adds that not only do the official media not cover such things but the prison system itself does everything it can to hide what is going on from the outside.  There is no public control over the prison system, and that is exactly how the jailers want it to remain.

            The RBC news agency said it had asked the federal penal authorities for a comment but hadn’t gotten a response.

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