UN human rights experts are urging Russian authorities to prosecute alleged widespread cases of torture in Russian prisons and labor camps, including beatings, electric shocks, and suffocation.
The chairman of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, Jens Modvig, said at a hearing on Russia's record in Geneva on July 25 that Russia has "one of the highest rates" of prisoner death from torture among countries belonging to the Council of Europe, with about 4,000 deaths recorded each year in a prison population of about 600,000.
"Torture is practiced widely," Modvig said, yet "there is no rule ensuring that punishment for torture corresponds to the seriousness of the crime."
Russian authorities detained six prison guards on July 23, a few days after a video circulated by the Novaya Gazeta newspaper showed at least 10 guards torturing and beating an inmate.
Modvig said the video raised questions about safety in the justice system, noting that "the recording dates to June 2017" and "shows a prisoner identified as Yevgeny Makarov being held down on a table and being beaten repeatedly on his legs and soles of his feet."
Modvig asked a Russian delegation at the hearing to identify who was conducting the investigation and when it would be completed and what authorities are doing to ensure the safety of Makarov's lawyer, who has fled the country.
The Russian delegation is expected to provide the committee with detailed answers on July 26.
Felice Gaer, an American member of the committee, sought guarantees that those responsible for Makarov's beating at a prison in the city of Yaroslavl northeast of Moscow would be brought to justice.
"How do we know that they will be properly prosecuted for torture when in other cases, such as with Sergei Magnitsky, the cases end in prosecution only of lower-level officials, or the prosecution is drawn out so that the statute of limitations expires, or persons are subjected solely to administrative or disciplinary fines?" Gaer asked.
The case of Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in custody in 2009 after alleged beatings and denial of medical care, was "exemplary of nonaction" in the Russian prison system, she said.
Russian Deputy Justice Minister Mikhail Galperin told the committee that strict rules govern the use of force in prisons.
"Each case where a detainee is harmed, or if they in particular die as a result of physical force, special measures, or use of firearms, the prosecutor is informed within one day with supporting documentation," he said.
But Galperin gave no details of any officials prosecuted for torture at the start of the committee's two-day examination of Russia's record.