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Russia Dismisses Another High-Ranking Prison Official Amid Abuse Scandal

Then-Moscow police chief Anatoly Yakunin speaks at a meeting in Moscow in January 2016.
Then-Moscow police chief Anatoly Yakunin speaks at a meeting in Moscow in January 2016.

The deputy director of Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) has been dismissed in the latest firing of senior officials amid a growing prison-abuse scandal.

Anatoly Yakunin, who has worked in the FSIN since 2019 and was appointed its deputy director in August 2020, was dismissed by President Vladimir Putin on December 28.

No reason was given for the dismissal of Yakunin, who previously served in the Interior Ministry. But the Russian rights group, which has been publishing videos of torture and sexual assault that took place in Russian prisons, suggested Yakunin was pushed out at the suggestion of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Yakunin's brings to six the number of senior prison officials who have been relieved of their duties since began publishing videos of prisoner abuse in penitentiary facilities across the country.

Aleksandr Kalashnikov, who was the FSIN's director, is the highest-ranking official to have lost his job amid the scandal, which has resulted in a slew of criminal investigations into prisoner abuse. Kalashnikov, an FSB general, was replaced by Arkady Gostov, who previously served as the deputy head of the Interior Ministry.

Putin acknowledged during his annual news conference on December 23 that prisoner abuse is a problem in Russia.

The long-standing issue has received more exposure after the website in October began publishing excerpts from a large batch of videos it received documenting prisoner abuse.

The first batch of videos, which showed sexual abuse at an FSIN medical facility in Saratov, led to the resignation of the FSIN's director and several prison officials in the southwestern city.

The whistle-blower site has also published videos of abuse that took place in the Krasnoyarsk region from 2016-19, as well as in the territories of Transbaikal and Primorsk.

After published a second batch of videos in November, the organization's founder, Vladimir Osechkin, was added to the Interior Ministry's most wanted list. Osechkin, who currently lives in France, has said the videos were provided by a former Saratov prison inmate and IT expert, Belarusian national Syarhey Savelyeu.

Savelyeu fled to France in October, where he applied for political asylum.
Russia issued an arrest warrant, accusing Savelyeu of "illegal access to digital information." But on November 11, prosecutors withdrew the charges and stopped the probe against him.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Savelyeu said he was "astonished" by the number of Russian officials who were aware of the torture going on in prison facilities.

"A huge number of state bodies support and 'protect' [the abuse], create a shield around this torture conveyor -- so long as it continues to function," he said.

Savelyeu was arrested on drug charges while visiting the southern Russian region of Krasnodar in 2015 and served time at a prison in Saratov, in Russia's Volga region.

The 31-year-old has said he was asked to help operate the prison's local computer network, including uploading videos and distributing them to prison staff. He secretly copied the videos of abuse to a flash drive and turned it over to shortly after his release in February.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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