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Poll Shows Every Tenth Russian Has Been Tortured; Kremlin Skeptical

A video purportedly shows the torture of a prison inmate in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.
A video purportedly shows the torture of a prison inmate in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

One in every 10 Russians has experienced torture at the hands of law enforcement, according to a new poll released to coincide with the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26.

The poll by independent Russian pollster Levada Center, which was commissioned by the UN-affiliated Committee Against Torture, found that 60 percent of Russians view torture under any circumstances as impermissible, while 30 percent approve of it in specific cases, including against a serious criminal or to help save a life.

Of those who claimed to have experienced torture, 75 percent said it was aimed at humiliating or intimidating them.

"A significant proportion of people perceive courts and law enforcement agencies as a system that protects mainly the interests of the authorities or groups close to it," the report says.

Results of the survey, which included 3,400 respondents in 53 Russian regions, were first published by the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant on June 26.

The poll comes amid increased scrutiny over Russia's treatment of prisoners following several high-profile cases which have shed light on the use of torture by police.

It also comes after United Nations human rights investigators called on Russia last year to halt frequent torture of detainees and prosecute perpetrators.

In February, the Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious group banned in the country since 2017, alleged that at least seven of its members in the Siberian city of Surgut had been subjected to torture involving stun guns and suffocation by police.

In March, independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta posted videos appearing to show evidence of inmates being tortured and abused by guards at a prison in the city of Yaroslavl.

Similar scenes of torture, including videos depicting an inmate being beaten by at least 17 guards at the city's Corrective Colony No. 1, were shown in a separate video released in 2018.

A public outcry over that video led to the arrest of at least 15 guards and the former warden of the prison.

Speaking during his daily call-in with journalists on June 26, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, declined to comment on the results of the survey since the Kremlin had yet to scrutinize them.

"We must very carefully analyze what kind of survey this is," he said. "What the sample is, what exact question was asked. Using the language of sociologists, what methodology was used."

Peskov also elicited surprise by appearing to question the journalists -- including Western reporters dialed in to the call -- on whether they could substantiate the statistics.

"We have around 30 people on this conference call, right? Right," he said. "Who has experienced torture from representatives of law enforcement? Identify yourselves."

With reporting from Meduza and Kommersant
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