The source of a massive leak of information, including videos, of alleged torture and sexual assaults in Russia's penitentiary system has fled to France, where he plans to seek political asylum.
The news was confirmed on October 16 by Vladimir Osechkin, a prominent Russian human rights defender, who runs the anti-torture project Gulagu.net, which has released much of the video.
Osechkin had described his source for the massive leak only as a Belarusian IT engineer who had been incarcerated in a prison in Saratov where he faced abuse, calling him only "Syarhey."
According to Gulagu.net, Syarhey arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris on October 16 on a flight from an unspecified country in northern Africa. It said he had immediately turned to police at the airport in the French capital for help on seeking asylum.
It also included a photo on its Telegram channel depicting someone it said was Syarhey at the airport.
Gulagu.net on October 4 began publishing the first batch of videos that it claimed show prison inmates being tortured by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN).
Osechkin wrote on Facebook on October 4 that the videos "prove" that FSB and FSIN members are using rape and other forms of torture to force inmates to cooperate with them and that they "themselves become part of the torture machine" by snitching on other inmates or by signing false testimonies prepared by investigators.
Russian prosecutors said on October 5 that they had launched a preliminary investigation into the videos already released by Osechkin’s Gulagu.net, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov promised a "serious" probe if the incidents depicted in the clips turn out to be genuine.
One of the videos posted on the Vot-tak.tv website shows several people using a large stick to rape a naked man who is tied to a bed.
According to Osechkin, that video was shot in a Russian prison in February 2020.
The Mediazona website published three other videos purportedly showing inmates being tortured in a prison hospital in the city of Saratov.
According to Osechkin, Syarhey had access to videos stored in the prison's computers that were shot in several penitentiaries in the Vladimir, Saratov, and Irkutsk regions between 2018 and 2020.
Osechkin alleged that some 200 inmates have been tortured and raped by FSB and FSIN agents in these penitentiaries during that period, and that the videos he has obtained document the ill-treatment of 40 of them.
A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, Andrei Ivanov, told reporters on October 5 that all correctional facilities in Saratov will be checked as part of a preliminary investigation to see if inmates there were being abused.
A day later, on October 6, the FSIN said it had fired five senior prison officials, including the director of the prison where the alleged abuse took place and the head of the regional prison service.