Staunton, March 30 – At the end of Stalin’s time, prisoners in the GULAG staged numerous revolts, actions that rapidly multiplied after his death and were among the major reasons that the Soviet leadership ended the prison camp system on which the Soviet dictator’s power had rested.
Now, in the 19th year of Vladimir Putin’s reign, prisoners in the Russian penal system are similarly restive, not only staging revolts in various camps and prisons but no longer being the subservient and obedient inmates that the guards and their masters have long counted on. Instead, they have increasingly attacking their jailors.
Not surprisingly, jailors are angry and perhaps even afraid. But as one would expect, the Russian penal system is using complaints about prisoners attacking guards as a way of distracting attention from guards attacking prisoners. The penal authorities say prisoners are attacking guards 20 times more often than guards prisoners -- and that the imbalance is growing.
In reporting this complaint by the Russian penal authorities, Kommersant notes that activists involved with the defense of the rights of prisoners say that “the data do not fully reflect reality: those incarcerated have few chances to register traumas they have had inflicted upon them or gather evidence to make complaints (kommersant.ru/doc/3929954).
According to the penal authorities, the number of attacks by prisoners against guards increased from 175 to 203, the number of guards who were injured from 46 to 55, and the number of cases where groups of prisoners banded together to attack guards went up from 10 to 20.
But according to Yakov Iontsev of the Public Verdict prisoner defense NGO, if one excludes the prominent case of November 2018 Yaroslavl prisoner revolt, the authorities brought charges against only 10 guards but brought charges or imposed serious punishments on 250 prisoners. The real number of crimes by guards against prisoners is unknown.
The lack of reliable statistics about such crimes or even any evidence at all is a serious problem, something international authorities and even Russian government officials have begun to talk about. Last July, Jens Modvig of the UN Committee Against Torture called on Russia to define torture, something it hasn’t done, to include many actions by guards against prisoners.
That call was echoed by Tatyana Moskalkova, the Presidential plenipotentiary for human rights. But to date, the Russian government has taken no action in that direction. As a result, it controls the statistics that are put out – and can use them as in the present case to make its case rather than to reflect reality.