A prominent Russian human rights defender says his team has obtained a large batch of videos that he claims show prison inmates being tortured by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN).
Vladimir 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, 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.
Osechkin told Vot-tak.tv that he obtained video clips totaling 40 gigabytes from a former inmate -- an IT specialist -- who recently fled abroad.
That ex-prisoner himself was tortured while in custody, and the prison administration used his professional skills to process the videos of inmates being tortured, the human rights activist said.
According to Osechkin, the man had access to videos stored in the prison's computers that were shot in several penitentiaries in the Vladimir, Saratov, and Irkutsk regions between 2018-20.
Osechkin alleged that some 200 inmates have been tortured and raped by FSB and FSIN agents in these penitentiaries during that period, and 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.
FSIN officials said officers had been dispatched from Moscow to the region to "verify the accuracy of the information."
Denis Sobolev, the chairman of the Public Monitoring Commission rights group in Saratov, said he and the regional ombudsman had visited the prison hospital shown in one of the videos several times over the last six months, and that "none of the inmates there complained about anything."
Osechkin founded the Gulagu.net human rights group in 2011 to focus on violations of the rights of prison inmates across Russia. He left Russia in 2015 for an undisclosed European Union country.
In July, Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, blocked the group’s website at the request of the FSB and FSIN.