Staunton, September 18 – The Russian government is about to introduce a bill that would allow jailers to use more force, including in some cases lethal force, against prisoners and to avoid being held accountable by the courts, an action that led Russian ombudsman Ella Pamfilova to appeal to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to kill the measure.
But her appeal, reported today by “Kommersant” may not be crowned with success because Presidential Human Rights Council earlier denounced the justice ministry draft and nonetheless the government’s commission on legislative initiatives subsequently approved its dispatch to the Duma (kommersant.ru/doc/2569394 and grani.ru/Society/Law/m.233112.html).
According to Panfilova, the new measure would harm the reputation of Russia by opening the way for jailers to use greater physical force, including in some instances lethal force, against prisoners if lesser means do not work and to escape any judicial oversight of what they are doing. But of course, it would have more immediate consequences for Russian prisoners.
If the government-backed measure goes forward and is approved, that will almost certainly untie the hands of many Russian jailers, lead to more abuses of the rights of prisoners, increase the chances for intimidation and the spread of fear, and mark a return to some of the worst days of the penal system of the Soviet past.
According to Vladimir Osechkin, the coordinator of the Gulagu.net project, the government-backed measures, which take the form of amendments to Article 286 of the Criminal Code will make it very difficult to bring charges against jailers and thus open the way to more “beatings and torture” of prisoners.
The Russian government’s response to these observations makes them even more disturbing. The Justice Ministry told “Kommersant” that the amendments “only systematize already existing rulers on the application of force and special measures on prisoners.” In short, they are nothing new but rather more of the same.
And the Justice Ministry insisted that in it view, “the draft law corresponds to the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms according to which the loss of life is not considered a violation of law when it is the result of an absolutely necessary application of force.”