Staunton, Nov. 2 – All the talk about improving conditions in the prisons and camps of the Russian Federation to eliminate torture and make the lives of inmates better will be vitiated by proposed new rules that will allow the authorities to shut off prisons from the outside world and thus act with impunity against inmates.
If amendments proposed by the Justice Ministry to the law governing the operation of prisons and camps are adopted as seems nearly certain, jail administrators will have a free hand to close off those facilities to all outsiders including lawyers for the prisoner and human rights activists (ng.ru/politics/2021-11-02/3_8293_prisons.html).
The new rules, Nezavisimaya gazeta reports, broaden the conditions under which jailors can act to include not only the threat of violence but also epidemiological conditions. The lack of precision in the definition of both means that the authorities will have a free hand to block any contact between inmates and the outside world.
In the absence of such contact, prisoners will have few possibilities of defending themselves against abuses, including torture, by exploiting public opinion or using lawyers to ensure that their basic rights are established. In short, whenever the powers want it to, the Russian prison system will return to something like the GULAG.
That may seem a small thing compared to all the moves toward authoritarianism under Putin; but just as the GULAG provided the foundation for Stalinist totalitarianism, so too these changes will open the way to a far more repressive Russia than the one that Vladimir Putin has so far sought to create.