Thursday, June 27, 2019

One Russian in Ten has Experienced Torture at the Hands of the Siloviki, Levada Poll Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – To mark the International Day of Support for Victims of Torture, the Levada Center has released a 76-page study on the experience Russians have had with that crime, a study commissioned by the Russian Committee Against Torture and that involved a survey of 3400 people in 53 federal subjects of the Russian Federation.

            The full report, online at  is summarized in today’s Kommersant by Anastasiya Kurilova ( Its findings are truly depressing: one in ten Russians has experienced torture at the hands of the siloviki, and nearly one in three approve the use of torture in law enforcement. 

            The use of force by the authorities, the report found, typically arises out of a clash between the siloviki and the population. Those who have clashed with the police frequently are more likely to become victims of torture than those who have not, with the group most at risk being men between 25 and 55.

            Muscovites report being the victims of torture more often than do other Russians, possibly, the Levada Center suggests, because they know their rights better than do others. But the most likely candidates for victimization are those with less than secondary education who live in smaller cities.

            The report specifies that “every third conflict with the siloviki is accompanied by force or the threat of its use.” That means, the Levada Center analysts write in the study, that the authorities are accustomed to using force against those they come in contact with or have detained. 

            While only ten percent of those surveyed say they have been victims of torture, a remarkable 75 percent say they know about the application of torture from acquaintances and recognize that it is used to secure guilty pleas or to get evidence  A third of the sample said they viewed torture as a form of punishment.

            Commenting on the report, Dmitry Kazakov, a lawyer with the Committee against Torture, said “about 60 percent” of Russians consider torture to be impermissible but “only a third are ready to stand up for their rights and that “almost 30 percent” consider the use of torture appropriate in the law enforcement with slightly more (39 percent) saying the struggle against it allows some criminals to go free.

            These findings, Kurilova says, are consistent with others that the Moscow Institute of Sociology has collected in the past and that the Committee against Torture has gathered in the recent past.

            Two comments on the report, one by a human rights expert and the other by the editor of a pro-communist portal, merit note.  Ilya Milshteyn says it is “curious” that the report was conducted by one organization the Kremlin  has identified as a foreign agent at the request of another that it has also placed that label on (

            But however that might be, he continues, the fact that so many Russians have experienced torture and that such a large share of them feel that torture is just “the way things are” is troubling because it means it will be extremely difficult for Russian society to overcome its deference to the powers that be, out of fear if nothing ese.

            Milshteyn suggested there was only one bright spot in the report: “90 percent of our compatriots, just imagine, have never been tortured.”  Perhaps they will take the lead in helping to reduce the share who have.
            And Anatoly Baranov of the FORUM.msk portal says that the report captures only part of the problem: Torture is used to extract confessions or information, but the powers that be in Russia use violence against those they can do with impunity just because they have gotten used to doing so (

            Thus, the real share of Russians who have suffered violence at the hands of the powers that be is much higher than the Levada Center study suggests and the fact that few complain should not surprise anyone. After all, he says, few Russian women complain to the police when they have been raped. Instead, they remain silent. 

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