Torture victims in Russia are brought back to life four times

Yaroslavl Prison No. 1 is a desolate brick building with barbed wire on the banks of the Russian Volga.

We meet with a former inmate, Yevgeny Makarov.

He had just been in the house for six years and eight months – here and in another of Yaroslavl's Insalubrious Prisons.

Prison guards do not want us filming. Mr. Makarov did not miss a beat, pushes his cell phone camera in the faces and asks them to know their problem. He does not let up. Finally they go away.

Yevgeni spoke about his ordeal
Image:
Yevgeny Makarov says he hopes that those who attacked him will be punished

A man who was handcuffed 18 months ago at a table and alternately beaten from the waist down with a room full of guards.

"They hit me on my feet, in my face, strangled me with a towel, they poured water into my mouth, so I stifled, I died four times, and they brought me back to life four times," he says.

They did not knock the ghost out of him.

We know all this because there is a video. Torture in Russian prisons is nothing new. Seeing the brutal evidence is.

It's a tough clock. Mr Makarov's report is unpleasant enough, but he does not describe how he screamed.

His case sparked a public outcry, but only because the video had leaked out – the public that led the Russian Prison Service to carry out nationwide inspections and prosecute the guards involved.

Thirteen of the guards are now behind bars, waiting for the trial. Another is under house arrest. Mr. Makarov points to her windows. "I hope, I hope deeply, that these sadists will be punished," he says.

The guards tried to choke Yevgeny with a towel
Image:
The guards tried to choke Yevgeny with a towel

The lawyer of Mr. Makarov, Irina Biryukova, of the public rights group Public Verdict, was employed long before the video appeared.

She had complained to the prison authorities about Mr. Makarov and others being beaten. She had brought her case to the European Court of Human Rights, which had called on the authorities to investigate the case.

The video was leaked a year later. Only then was there an answer.

It has highlighted the culture of torture and abuse in Russian prisons. Ms. Biryukova says the video's advertisements have encouraged others to speak out.

He said, "We receive a lot of reports of people convicted from other prisons across Russia.

"We started working with them, which shows us that people are not afraid anymore and start talking about the problem of torture."

The guards wanted to stop filming
Image:
The guards wanted to stop filming

This Monday is the day of human rights. It has been 70 years since the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It comes at a time when Russia is threatening to leave the Council of Europe and, if so, the competence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

For a long time, the ECHR was a final remedy for the citizens of Russia, which has repeatedly called the state to account for human rights violations.

Most recently, the court ordered Moscow to pay opposition politician Alexey Navalny a fine of £ 25,000 for his repeated detentions.

At a conference in Moscow on the occasion of the anniversary, Russian Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatyana Moskolkova, visited her Eurasian colleagues.

It's a sign of where Russia's focus lies. Sharing Best Practices for Human Rights was the name of the event. From Iran to Kazakhstan, participants were not known for their outstanding human rights records.

Ms Moskolkova informed us that she would regret the deviation from the ECHR. "The Council of Europe without Russia is not a complete organization," she says.

"The same I believe for Russia, without international human rights organizations that would be a step backwards."

Surprising in Mr. Makarov's case, however, is the fact that the pressure came from within.

A video leaked by an insider and brought to the attention of an independent media company had the power to initiate a postponement.

The trial has not started yet, but Ms. Biryukova believes the chances of justice are high for the public.

Tatjana Moskolkova says that turning away from the ECHR would be regrettable
Image:
Tatjana Moskolkova says a Russian withdrawal from the ECHR would be regrettable

The Russian federal penitentiary has now documented 168 more violations in prisons and detention centers across the country, saying that those involved face disciplinary action.

Whether they are followed up in each case is another story, but it is a start.

There is little to celebrate in the fight against abuse in Russian prisons; This is a small but significant victory.