IRKUTSK, Russia -- Activists say Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) in the Siberian region of Irkutsk has used a legal maneuver to keep lawyers from human rights groups from defending cases of alleged torture in the region's jails and penal colonies.
Rights activist Svyatoslav Khromenkov told RFE/RL on June 3 that three lawyers for the Siberia Without Torture group had received official letters from the FSIN saying they had been given the status of witnesses in high-profile torture cases, which under Russia law makes it impossible for them to defend the inmates.
The group's lawyer, Dmitry Dmitriyev, called the move "a way to deprive inmates of legal assistance."
"In this particular case, all crimes against inmates were conducted behind closed doors in penal colonies and jails, and rights defenders could not witness the situations.... The move was made to create a false reason to deprive the victims from free assistance of attorneys," Dmitriyev said.
The FSIN directorate in Irkutsk refused to comment on the situation.
Three probes were launched in the region in late May into allegations of the torture and rape of three inmates -- Kezhik Ondar, Tahirjon Bakiev, and Yevgeny Yurchenko -- while they were held in detention centers in Irkutsk and the nearby city of Angarsk.
Earlier in March, nine other probes were launched against FSIN officers over alleged torture of inmates in several penal colonies in the region.
In April last year, more than 200 inmates in a penal colony in Angarsk maimed themselves to protest what they called torture at the hands of their guards. The protest turned into a large prison riot that led to a fire, with one inmate found dead amid the debris.
Hundreds of inmates were transferred from the penal colony in Angarsk to other penitentiaries after the riot, where many of them said they were tortured to confess to organizing the riot.