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Russia: Law Enforcement Organs Accused Of Widespread Torture

About one in five Russian citizens has met with police abuse (file photo) (epa) March 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A study by Russian sociologists and human rights activists shows that ill-treatment and torture are endemic in the country's detention facilities.

According to a new study published on March 28 by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Committee Against Torture, a Russian human rights organization, every 25th person in Russia is tortured, beaten, or harassed by law enforcement officials each year.

Shocking Findings

The report is based on opinion polls carried out in five Russian regions over the past three years. The report does not cover Chechnya, where Moscow's military campaign against separatists has resulted in what rights groups describe as massive torture and abuse against civilians.

Yakov Gilinsky, a sociology professor with the Russian Academy of Sciences who supervised the study, disclosed the findings at a news conference in Moscow.

"So, has the adult population been subjected to torture within one year? The results -- in St. Petersburg: 3.4 percent, in the Pskov region: 4.7 percent, in Nizhny Novgorod: 3.4 percent, in Komi: 4.6 percent, in Chita: 4.5 percent," Gilinsky said. "The average result for all the regions is that 4.1 percent of people have personally been subjected to torture, or illegal physical or psychological violence."

"The average result for all the regions is that 4.1 percent of people have personally been subjected to torture, or illegal physical or psychological violence."

The respondents were also asked whether someone in their circle of friends and relatives had been beaten within the same year by law enforcement officials in an effort to extract testimonies or to intimidate them.

Between 9.3 and 17.7 percent of respondents said yes.

Even for the Committee Against Torture, which has been fighting police abuse for the best of the past decade, these figures came as a shock.

"Our organization has been working on this for seven years," said Maksim Prytkov, a representative of the Committee Against Torture. "I've been working on this issue for 10 years. Personally, I was shocked by these figures, because they show that almost every Russian citizen either himself or through his close circle reliably knows that our police systematically use torture. If citizens know that's the way police work, the proper level of trust toward Interior Ministry organs will never be achieved."

Abuse Gone Unpunished

Russia's flawed justice system and fear of reprisal mean only a fraction of police abuses are punished.

Asked by RFE/RL to respond to the report, the head of the Russian Interior Ministry's press service declined to comment.

The study coincides with another report on torture released today by the New York-based rights organization Human Rights Watch.

The report accuses Russian authorities of torturing three Russian citizens and harassing four others in 2004, after U.S. authorities returned them to their home country.

U.S. forces detained the seven men in Afghanistan in 2002 and held them for about two years at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

The report criticized the practice of repatriating suspects to countries where they face torture, such as Russia, on the basis of "diplomatic assurances" that the returnees would not be abused.

"The United States returned the seven former Guantanamo detainees to Russia based on Russia's promises that they would be treated humanely here in Russia," said Allison Gill, the director of Human Rights Watch's Moscow office. "What we found is that that did not happen. We are calling for an immediate stop to the use of diplomatic assurances all around the world by any country that uses them in order to uphold the firm standards in the [UN] Convention Against Torture."

Kudayev, pictured before and after his detention (file photo)

Upon their return to Russia, the men were detained for three months before being released. They were not beaten in custody. The abuse, says Human Rights Watch, came later.

Rasul Kudayev, a resident of Kabardino-Balkaria in southern Russia, was detained after an armed uprising in the provincial capital in October 2005. He remains in custody although he has yet to be prosecuted for his alleged role in the unrest.

Human Rights Watch says photographs, medical records, court documents, and the testimony of lawyers and family members show that Kudayev was repeatedly beaten in custody in an effort to extract confession from him.

Two other former Guantanamo detainees, Ravil Gumarov and Timur Ishmuratov -- both residents of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan -- were detained in April 2005 in connection with an explosion at a local gas pipeline.

Human Rights Watch's report says they were beaten in custody until they confessed. According to the report, Gumarov was deprived of sleep for one week and shackled to a small cage with his hands over his head.

Standard Practice

But one does not have to be a terrorism suspect to face torture in Russia.

Gill says police torture continues to remain "standard practice."

"Police abuse and torture are widespread still in Russia. So unfortunately it's standard practice," Gill said. "In the past 10 years, the situation has not changed nearly enough. Many of the findings of the [torture] report that we did in 1997 still hold true. We still get regular complaints of police abuse and torture. There are many reforms desperately needed to be taken in law enforcement."

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)

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