A Russian inmate who complained to a watchdog group about being tortured, raped, and humiliated by prison guards said he was retaliated against, and went on a 22-day hunger strike in protest, according to his lawyer and relatives.
The claims by Marsel Amirov, who is serving a 14-year sentence on a murder conviction, were the latest in a series of revelations and allegations pointing to widespread abuse of inmates in Russia's sprawling prison system.
Earlier this year, a rights group began publishing videos that were secretly taken from prison computer networks by a former inmate at another facility. Those videos have struck a chord in Russian society, shining a spotlight on torture in jails and prisons, a problem largely ignored by the authorities.
In November, Amirov, an inmate at a prison in the Kirov region, 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow, met with a government-sanctioned public commission charged with monitoring human rights.
He told one member that he had been tortured: He said that his head was pushed repeatedly into a bucket of human excrement and that he had been beaten, strangled, and raped with a mop handle, according to a written statement he provided later to his lawyer.
Amirov was then transferred to a nearby prison medical ward after the visit, but 11 days later, on November 30, he was sent back to the main Kirov facility where he has been held since May 2018. He told his lawyer later that he was again tortured by guards and pressured to recant his earlier statement.
He then went on a hunger strike, resulting in his transfer back to the medical facility on December 13.
Ten days later, while in the prison medical facility, Amirov resumed his hunger strike. He later told his lawyer that he was again punished for his actions, and placed in a special punishment cell that was rat-infested and unheated.
On December 23, while in the prison medical facility, he met defense lawyer Tatyana Shabanova, and provided her with the written statement documenting the earlier abuse.
"At first, when I saw him, he was like a wounded animal," Shabanova told RFE/RL. "He looked around, he shuddered, he was afraid of everything, his eyes were haunted. But after realizing that he was not being left [in danger], he calmed down a bit."
Amirov had previously written letters to relatives in which he reported on what he described as the inhuman treatment of inmates. "I will say one thing: For the [prison guards], prisoners are not people, but just animals that you can do whatever you want with. And there is no one to complain to," Amirov's sister, Lilia, told RFE/RL.
The regional division of the federal prison service did not immediately respond to requests for comment from RFE/RL.
The Kirov prison administration and its practices have already been under scrutiny by the regional Investigative Committee for alleged inmate abuses. However, the investigation found no evidence of inmate abuse.
Andrei Babushkin, a member of the government commission who met with Amirov in November, has publicly called for Amirov to be given proper medical treatment, and for prison officials to be investigated for abuse.
For years, human rights activists have warned of and documented the problem of torture and rights violations at Russian prisons, a system that is a legacy of Soviet-era prison and labor camp practices.
But little has been done in the way of reform, and prison guards and officials are rarely punished or prosecuted. At his annual press conference last week, President Vladimir Putin said prison torture is a “world problem” and suggested without evidence that it is no worse in Russia than in the United States or France.
The leak of videos, which was published by the group Gulagu.net, prompted federal investigators to open a probe at one facility, in the central Saratov region.
In a rare case of prison officials being punished, the federal prison service in October announced it had fired five senior prison officials, including the director of the prison where the alleged abuse captured on video took place.