We have been preparing an investigation into torture in Russian prisons for almost a year. It took a lot of time to track down, earn the trust of, and obtain testimonies from former inmates of the penal colony in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, thousands of kilometers from central Russia.
Simultaneously with The Insider's investigation, Russian human rights activists published an archive of video footage depicting torture being inflicted on prisoners across Russia. The clips, obtained from the FSB and FSIN secret archive, show prisoners from Irkutsk, Saratov, Belgorod, Rostov and other Russian regions being raped, beaten and humiliated. Torture victims explain their torturers' motives by their desire to break their will in order to obtain material for blackmailing other prisoners, make them confess to crimes, pay tribute, or even to start torturing other prisoners themselves.
This all takes place in the modern world, in a country where there is no war, where torturers are not tasked with extracting valuable military information from prisoners at any cost. Torture is rampant in Russia, a country that has signed a number of human rights and anti-torture conventions and seems to enjoy a peaceful life. We have long known that in Russia, prison is not a place of correction, but rather a strange world separate from everything else, where guards and inmates resurrect on a daily basis the practices of the Stalinist Gulag. This has not always been the case. As early as ten years ago there was serious talk in Russia about the need to reform and humanize the penitentiary system. Now things are different. The authorities have been clearly and unambiguously showing how they prefer to rule the country. That is mainly by fear.
Investigations into torture have hardly been a revelation, but in a split instant, they made it impossible to ignore torture and pretend it only concerns those behind bars. Of course, the situation will not change overnight, but one thing is certain – this knowledge has now become an integral part of our society.
In the following article, we bring you the raw testimony of people who have experienced torture in Russian prisons. They share their thoughts on why it is used, the impact on them, and recount the involvement even of doctors in their ordeal.
In the village of Industrialny near Krasnoyarsk on the territory of Correctional Colony 31 there is the so-called Unified Cell Block (EPKT-31), where inmates who violate prison regulations are brought from all over the Krasnoyarsk krai. Up to 200 people are brought there every year. Almost all of them are tortured. Lawyers are hardly allowed in there, while the prisoners are kept in the basement for weeks after torture until the traces have cleared, well hidden from inspections. They are intimidated by the correctional officers in advance of rare visits by lawyers and human rights activists and are told to keep silent. In fact, EPKT-31 is a real conveyor belt of torture, which has been functioning at least since the beginning of the noughties. The Insider spoke with former inmates who had been in EPKT-31 between 2017 and 2020.
«The Krasnoyarsk krai is isolated within the entire system, it is a forge of personnel and torture know-how. They invent everything, test it, and then distribute it to all the country's correctional institutions,» says Valery Slepukha, former chairman of the Krasnoyarsk krai ONK (Public Monitoring Commission).
They test torture know-how here and then distribute it to all the country's correctional institutions
EPKT is a prison within a prison, and being transferred there is the harshest punishment that the colony chief can impose on a prisoner. Inmates can be transferred to EPKT for a period from one month to one year. The most egregious violators of prison rules are supposed to be sent there, but in practice convicts are often sent to the Cell Block for minor offences as well – for the refusal to do exercises, for not holding their hands behind their backs, for the use of foul language.
Those who went through EPKT-31 describe the same methods: new arrivals are wrapped in a mattress, their arms and legs are twisted until their ligaments are torn, they are beaten on their heels with wooden mallets, a bag or rags is put over their heads and they are strangled until they lose consciousness, a towel is put over their faces and water is poured onto it from a kettle so that the person cannot breathe and is choked, their anuses are hit with an electric shocker until the shocker is fully discharged.
«Prisoners are also subjected to psychotropic influence, they are given some medicines, injections, some unknown substances are pumped into the cells. One man said he felt like everything was afloat, the walls seemed to be collapsing, he grabbed the bed, and it began to fall. A lot of people got sick, lost consciousness. Several years passed and events repeated themselves. People didn't know each other, but they described similar things,» Slepukha said.
Sometimes young staff are sent to the EPKT and trained by more experienced staff: shown how to bend legs or how to effectively drive a person to unconsciousness all the while making sure they don't die.
In the summer of 2017, about 50 people, supported by members of the Public Monitoring Commission, decided to report torture, severe beatings and unbearable prison conditions in EPKT-31; many submitted their statements to the Investigative Committee. Several inspections were conducted at the institution, but no violations were found, and the cases were closed.
Since the 2017 scandal, none of the EPKT officers have been fired, and some even went on to be promoted. «They almost gave their word of honor they would fire some of them,» says Slepukha, «but they need people like that anyway, especially since they know a lot. They were hidden from us for half a year, transferred somewhere, and then they reappeared in higher positions. Many of the worst offenders made good careers and even went to Moscow. They had done things for which they had to be kicked out of their jobs, but they were simply transferred to another region or another institution. The same people kept surfacing in different places.»
Throughout the existence of the institution, several chief wardens have changed, and each of them personally participated in the torture. Many were subsequently promoted to higher positions in the FSIN (Federal Penitentiary Service). One of the former inmates recalls how, while he was being tortured, the former EPKT chief warden, Sergei Skabelin, was standing in the doorway, looking at him and drinking tea. They talk about the paramedic Nadezhda Gobareva, an elderly woman who worked in the EPKT for many years. She appeared when the tortured person lost consciousness, took his pulse with her foot, gave him ammonia, and in more severe cases gave injections of adrenaline, affectionately calling her patient a «kid». «The vital organs are intact – keep fucking him up,» one of The Insider's interviewees quoted her as saying.
Several chiefs wardens changed in EPKT-31, and each of them personally participated in the torture
Many inmates note they could not remember the names of all the officers because the officers deliberately omitted to wear name tags on their uniforms.
Three deaths are known to have occurred in EPKT-31. Such cases are usually written off by the colony administration as suicides, as was the October 30, 2017 case involving 34-year-old Chechen native Islam Magomadov, convicted in the Kondopoga riots case. Magomadov's family tried to have his death investigated, but to no avail. They claimed that he had been repeatedly tortured and beaten in detention, and that the head of Colony 31, Samvel Mkrtchyan, had personally promised him he would not come out alive.
In 2018, 21-year-old Leonid Zelenko disappeared. He had been sent to EPKT-31, from which he never returned. Leonid's former cellmates say he was killed, but there was no fuss like in Magomadov's case, because Leonid had only a single family member, his mother, and she herself is in prison, so there was no one to stand up for him. «First Islam was killed and then Lenya. In 2018, he was taken from Correctional Colony-17 (IK-17) to EPKT-31 and, as far as we know, he was strangled there,» says one of Zelenko's acquaintances.
Cellmates tried to find out about Zelenko from the colony administration, and were told he had committed suicide. «I knew him personally. I was with him at IK-17. According to the administration, he choked himself to death. I don't think this man was capable of suicide, he wasn't suicidal. I assume he was killed, only it was made to look if he had committed suicide,» one of them says.
The Insider and the Committee for Civil Rights sent official requests to the Krasnoyarsk Krai Department of the Federal Penitentiary Service with a request for information about the circumstances of Zelenko's death and whether any probes into his death were launched. The reply of the Main Department of the Federal Penitentiary Service stated that «the arguments set out in the appeal about the violent death of the prisoner are not substantiated and do not correspond to reality».
The reply of the Main Department of the Federal Penitentiary Service: «the arguments set out in the appeal about the violent death of the prisoner are not substantiated and do not correspond to reality».
Former inmates say that prison staff told them directly about the murders of Magomadov and Zelenko, threatening they might end up like them. «On June 13, 2019, deputy head of the Correctional Colony for security and operative activity A.Yu. Slepov threatened me he would transfer me to the Cell Block for three months, and if I continue the hunger strike, then on June 20, 2019 I will be sent to the EPKT-31, where I will be found hanged, like Zelenko and Magomadov», one of the prisoners wrote in a complaint about the actions of the colony staff.
According to Valiery Slepukha, if a prisoner dies during torture, they take his dead body from EPKT to the prison hospital, falsify official documents and specify a different cause of death. «We had a case involving a Tuvan. All the witnesses told us he had been taken out dead, that his body was even covered with a sheet. But the official documents showed that he was admitted to the Krai TB Hospital and died there, with some weird diagnosis made for him,» he recalls. Somehow the records of the doctor who headed the medical office of the Krasnoyarsk krai Department of the Federal Penitentiary Service were leaked online. He wrote: «We get a directive, and we diagnose 23-year-old guys with heart failure.» He made it clear they are actually ordered to write that, to hide the truth. Then the matter was hushed up, and he retired».
A still taken from one of a series of videos from Saratov prison hospital
«Any sign of humanity and they'll take you to EPKT»
Roman Murtazaliyev. incarcerated in EPKT twice, from September 2017 to October 2017 and from February 2019 to August 2019
If an inmate starts misbehaving - complaining to the administration, not complying with the prison rules, making excessive demands - the administration takes it over to the so-called self-regulators. They start looking for a way to get to the inmate. This function is performed by a group of privileged inmates. The administration's task is to create such circumstances that it would be detrimental for inmates to write complaints, that they would stay in disgusting conditions, without «giving a shit» or making a peep. It's a perfect policy.
They falsify violations, and on the basis of those violations they take inmates to EPKT. Prisoners are usually transported through the investigation block of Krasnoyarsk Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1. Torture is used there, they try to force a person to comply with the regulations and to break him morally. At this stage, the goal is to demoralize inmates to prevent them from putting up any resistance, so that it will be easier to work. If an inmate tries to resist the arbitrary behavior of the administration, physical force is used on him. It's all being framed as an act of aggression on the part of the inmate. Health workers are forced to write false reports. They have a certain way of falsifying things they've been using for years.
If you are sentenced to six months in EPKT, those six months are one big torture for you – sometimes it's milder, sometimes it gets harsher, but you get humiliated all the same. You're under 24/7 video surveillance. If you sit in the bathroom for more than three minutes, the cameraman starts yelling and calling you names and making you run out of the bathroom and show yourself to the camera. If you fail to do that, they yell: «Stand up, line up.» They pull you out, put you against the wall, take you to the inspection room. There they put a bag over your head to make you lose consciousness, twist your legs out, kick your heels in. Previously they used to drown you in a barrel of water, now there are no barrels, they do it with a plastic bag. Then they lock you up in a tiny cell and you stand there for six to eight hours at a time.
Once inside EPKT, you fall into the category of enemies of the people for them. They hate you for what you are. The staff there clearly have manic or sadistic tendencies, ferocious thugs who are tasked with torturing people. This is their function, they love their job, they get good money for it. They take you out and make you sweep the yard, or they can rape you with a rubber truncheon. Anything could happen, and they would go unpunished.
Any show of humanity and they'll take you to the EPKT. In the mid-noughties, dead bodies were being carried out of there. This activity has been going on for decades. The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service successfully tortures and kills people. And all this happens in peacetime right in front of us and nobody can do anything about it, because everything is sanctioned from the very top. They're not even hiding it: «We don't give a flying fuck. We have a green light; we can kill you and we won't get punished for it.» I personally was threatened by the captain of internal troops Sergey Skabelin that he would stage my suicide.
«We can kill you and we won't get punished»
There are a lot of things that happen that inmates keep quiet about and are afraid to talk about. This is all being okayed by Putin and the gang that sits in the Kremlin. They created a police state. All sprouts of civil society in this country have been suppressed, and the cult of betrayal is being fostered. The low living standards of the population are artificially maintained. A hungry, stupid, intimidated and half-drunken population is much easier to manage than a well-fed one. The main task of the state is to keep it that way.
They create an information vacuum, there's nothing but Channel One with Solovyov's propaganda. Most inmates absorb it and start praising Putin. I say to them, «Putin built the EPKT, does it mean anything to you?» And they answer: «Putin doesn't know about it, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service is doing all this on its own, it's killing us». They are like sheep. They have Stockholm syndrome. You start to hate your cellmates - they are dumb, stupid and cowardly. There's only one or two in a hundred you can talk with, and the rest are trash and scum. And the cops are also trash. I had to read books in order not to get dumb.
You remain in these extreme conditions for years. I can't put into words what we went through there. You wouldn't wish it on the enemy. It's slow torture. You're sentenced to eight years, and they can experiment on you as they please during all those years. There has been no positive change in the system. Every year it gets tougher and tougher. Officers continue to abuse their authority, creating brainwashing and dehumanizing laboratories out of «correctional» or, to put it more precisely, «punitive» institutions.
The majority of those who have passed through these concentration camps have lost faith in themselves. The goal of the Main Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service is that when you look in the mirror, you see a faggot in front of you, not a decent person, so that a person in his old age would still remember things for which he cannot forgive himself.
«They put a towel over your face and pour water from the kettle so that you can't breathe»
Grigory (name changed at the request of the interviewee), was in EPKT-31 three times - in 2019, 2020, and 2021
In the colony I couldn't get enough sleep and tried to sleep during the day. It's cold in Norilsk, and they give you some kind of rag instead of a blanket. I didn't sleep, I was freezing all night. During the day they told me: «Don't sleep». Am I supposed to die because I can't sleep? Of course, I had to sleep. I had problems because of that. That's the kind of thing that gets you sent to EPKT. Or refusing to clean the yard. I spent so much time in the isolation ward. Why do I have to clean for someone else? What am I, a slave? It's written in the rules that a person who cleans yards has to be considered a paid worker. No one was paying me anything. Why should I do anything? They required me to obey the law and they don't obey the law themselves.
Imagine, you were brought up by your parents, some normal values were instilled in you. And then you find yourself in a place where everything is the opposite. You don't have to adjust to that. You are free to figure out for yourself how to do the right thing.
The first time I went to EPKT was in 2019, in early March. First, they brought me to SIZO-1 (Pre-Trial Detention Center). They have their own ventures there – punishment cells, a tiny cell where they beat you up. They take out their genitals, put them in your face a couple centimeters away and say, «Either you do it or you don't.» There were people I know there who cut themselves because of the beatings. I was in that prison for 17 or 18 days, I was beaten there several times and then they locked me up in cell 146 to let the bruises go away. The prison convoy don't accept inmates with traces of severe beatings. When it was over, they sent me to EPKT.
I was first supposed to be given a bowel lavage, so I did it myself. Then I was taken to a search room where my things were to be searched. There are two rooms in the basement. They are identical, only the color of the walls is different. There is a camera, but it does not work when you need it or just hangs there for show.
They say to me: «Take off your clothes for a full inspection». I started to undress and when I was completely undressed, they told me: «Face the wall, arms wide» and started kicking my legs. A leg kick followed. I'm not a big man myself, I flew away. Then they twisted my arms behind my back and rolled me into a mattress. First, I was beaten by three security officers, then an inspector and his boss joined them. All in all, five people. They were going in and out. I don't remember who chief warden was, but it was he who was drowning me. They put a towel over my face and poured water from the kettle so that it was impossible to breathe. They hit me with a shocker and twisted my arms.
A female medic came and yelled: «I'm going to sit on your face!» Medics show up when you lose consciousness. They give you ammonia. But generally, it's very hard to lose consciousness. Man is a strong creature, a creature of God. Sometimes you wonder where that strength comes from. Sometimes it hurts so much that you don't want to live, and at certain moments your upbringing doesn't allow you to get over it. This went on into the night. They dragged me to a cell, because I couldn't walk properly - my legs were twisted out of joint.
The second time I went in was in 2020. There, for example, they open the cell window and leave you without clothes for the whole day. They can go into the bathhouse and start various procedures. There are no cameras there. They beat you up. They twist your arms, use tasers. Depends on what they want. If you write complaints against them, they ask you to sign waivers. Or obligations for you to follow some kind of routine. If you don't agree, they can keep in a tiny cell all day long. Can you imagine standing on your feet for 16 hours in a small cell? You couldn't sit down, you couldn't do anything. My health took a big hit back then. Some inmates got their teeth kicked out. They take you to a room, handcuff you and beat you up. They even killed people there.
Human rights activists almost never visit the prison, and even when they do, they are not to be trusted. In the majority of cases, they support the prison stuff, because after their visits the «procedures» start again. A female human rights activist comes, you meet with her, and she says, «Go on, tell me how you were beaten». If you tell her, that's it, they would take you out in the evening. Or you talked to the prosecutor, and then they would take you out in the evening and beat you up. Usually, they would lock you in the basement because nobody ever went there.
Human rights activists almost never visit the prison, and even when they do, they are not to be trusted
This has been going on for years, and no one can do anything about it. A few officers have changed during this time, but mostly the same ones have been working for years. They don't wear name tags. I didn't even know the chief warden's name. They hide it so that when you write complaints you can't name them. Those who did time with me wrote complaints and were tasered so they would write a retraction. Many of them retracted, there was no other way out, most of them had no lawyers, nothing, and they wanted to stay alive. We had to survive somehow.
I served nine years, I need to get back on my feet. My psyche was ruined but I need to live on. I have literally nothing. I haven't gone through any rehabilitation. I was in a cell all the time. When I go outside I start to panic - people and cars are everywhere. I was afraid to cross the road. It's better now, but in the beginning it was scary. Psychologically it's very hard. You struggle with some aspects, but it stays with you for life. You were drowned, killed, beaten for nothing. It hurts a lot. You can't explain it like that. God forbid anybody to go through that. What should I think about the government? How should I live in this society if it lets such things happen?
«Being taken away for not giving a greeting or using foul language»
Victoria Lobanova, attorney at Khoroshev and Partners
People who are taken to EPKT are mostly those who violate the prison regimen. There's no need for the prison staff to bring the inmate before the disciplinary commission or draw up any documents. They can just say that the prisoner didn't greet or used foul language. This is the most difficult thing to prove, in the sense that no video can be presented when the prisoner comes to his senses and complains about it.
I had a defendant who told me that there were harsh conditions at EPTK-31 in 2015. When inmates from other colonies came there, they were «well received.» Once you got there, you had to be quieter and lower than the grass. They put them head down on mattresses, hung them by their feet and beat them with truncheons until they were blue in the face. The officers came one after the other. There was screaming and yelling. The inmates already knew back then what it was like to be taken to the EPKT.
Later, in 2018, there was also preventive torture, to make the inmate behave well, keep quiet. They filled bottles with water and used them as clubs. There was one defendant, who tried to write to the Investigative Committee that he was beaten, other inmates could confirm that, but a lot of time would pass until the inspection started, until the lawyer came, until the statement was made, until it was submitted to the Committee - all traces of bodily injuries would have passed. The answer, as a rule, is: «Your appeal has been reviewed, goodbye». Two or three years go by, and after that no evidence remains whatsoever. There is no clear record of bodily injuries - no photos, no videos, etc. For the majority of inmates, these criminal acts and cruel treatment in the EPKT simply remain a memory. They are unprovable.
I know that people slit their wrists because of such treatment. One inmate set his feet on fire in his cell. It all stays inside the correctional institution; nobody knows about it and nobody can help the inmate.
EPKT is a place from which no inmate can make a phone call. If no lawyer visits them during their entire time in the institution, prisoners can only somehow pass among themselves the information about a particular person who was taken to EPKT. Sometimes I learn that so-and-so went to EPKT, and then we can do something, but there's no other way for a lawyer to get there. There is no other way for information to leak out. An inmate can write a statement about a crime to the committee, but it just won't get out of the penitentiary.
I've been told that people were beaten there within inches of their lives. In December 2019, just before the new year, an inmate slit his wrists because he knew he was going to EPKT-31, but they put him there anyway. People make every effort not to end up there. We also have Correctional Colony 42 and Correctional Colony 43, but the conditions there are milder than in Correctional Colony 31. When a lawyer starts visiting EPKT-31, the prison staff try to get rid of the inmate to stop the lawyer from vising, for example, they send the inmate to Boguchany. It is located far away in the forest and they took two of my defendants there to stop me from visiting them.
An inmate slit his wrists because he knew he was going to EPKT-31, but they put him there anyway
«A medic would take a look and say: «You're not good at torturing him, he's still coming to his senses»
Mikhail Rybkin, was in EPCT twice, in 2019 and 2020
There were no legal grounds for sending me to EPKT. I was sent there after I started to write complaints about violations of laws, about food, about the conditions in which we lived, about the attitude of the prison staff and so on. They made us sweep the yards no matter whether we were allowed to walk outdoors or not. They just made assignments and you had to go. They do not like complaints, and so they try to get rid of those who complain. And then there's another point: they send inmates to EPKT for the sake of quantity. If for whatever reason they needed to send ten people to EPKT they would send them no matter what.
The first time I got there was in 2019, around March. They told me to denounce thieves' traditions in writing, and I just didn't know those traditions. They know very well that most of the inmates don't know them. And they make you do chores on camera in order to humiliate you. You go out into the yard, it's spick and span, and still, they give you a broom. You ask, «What is there to sweep?» and they say: «Just sweep.» I said, «I'm not gonna do that.» They twisted my arms behind my back and started kicking me in the kidneys. I knew what was going on there and what they could do when a man had no sadness or joy in his eyes. I had to sign their papers on cooperation to save my health. They made me write that I undertook to cooperate with the administration. An operative called me to his office and said: «Sit down and write.» They gave me nicknames and call signs. You write the nickname and then report that nothing happened during your time in the cell.
A still taken from one of a series of videos showing torture at the Saratov prison
After that they did not beat me. There were times when I was locked in a cage. The cage was in a corner of a room - two walls and bars. Half a meter by half a meter. If they did not like something, for instance, if you said you would not do something, they could lock you inside the cage in the morning and keep you there till the end of the day - no toilet, no smoking, no eating or drinking. You can only stand there. If there are two of you, you're standing right next to each other. If you are alone, you can at least turn around.
Some people are drowned in water. A man suffocates, they pull him out, revive him, and drown him again. Or they put a bag over his head, he suffocates, they revive him and repeat the procedure. They perform artificial respiration. Sometimes a medic comes, takes a look and says, «You are not good at torturing him, he's still coming to his senses». Sometimes they overdo things, and the inmate dies, then the doctors may somehow react. But otherwise, they don't care at all. They just stand there and watch.
The second time I came to EPKT-31, I did not even try to prove anything, because I knew how it would end. I just raised my hands and said, «What do you want?» And they said what they wanted. The second time they didn't touch me.
«They diagnosed a normal person as violent and gave him a shot of haloperidol»
Sergey (name changed at the interviewee's request), was in EPKT twice, from January 2011 to January 2012 and from 2016 to 2017
The administration invented a system of punishments for all sorts of nonsense - for sleeping, for missing buttons, for stepping out of line - and sends inmates to EPKT. There, they could order you out at forty degrees below zero and keep you outside for an hour in canvas boots and socks. They could use physical force - kick, strangle or stab an inmate. A normal person, who did not have any mental illness, was diagnosed as violent, and to «calm him down» they gave him special injections like those administered in psychiatric institutions, haloperidol, for example. Or another drug called «Madame Depot» <an antipsychotic medication called «moditen depot» which is used to treat schizophrenia - The Insider>, which makes a person constantly want to go somewhere and prevents him from thinking straight. In Correctional Colony 15 the same drugs were used on the inmates. Let's say an inmate had a verbal altercation with the administration, they took him to the medical unit, tied him up and injected him.
When you arrive at a colony, you are immediately sent to the quarantine unit, and stay there for 14 days. During this time, they come and tell you to take paint and a paintbrush and paint squares on the parade ground, or do some kind of exercise in the morning, or take a broom and sweep up. For a new arrival everything starts right away. If you don't agree, they can use physical force, beat you up, or they can tie you up and inject you with drugs.
«I was being smothered - they wrapped rags around my head and threatened to rape me»
Leonid Minaev, was in EPKT twice, in November 2017 and in 2019
While you are in the camp, if you are declared a repeat offender, you are moved to the maximum-security section. You need to be able to defend yourself there willy-nilly. Let's say, if you are entitled to something and they don't give it to you, you say to them, «Come on! You want me to follow the rules, to be polite to the officers, while you don't follow the rules yourselves». They don't like it when an inmate stands for his rights and demands something.
Sometimes you arrive at a colony, and they don't touch you. Because you are «unprobed». The camp's operatives «probe» you - they decide how to deal with you, how to get information out of you, or make you follow the prison rules.
On December 7, 2017, I arrived at EPKT at about 6 p.m. They have a basement with a search room there. While they're searching your stuff, they kick your legs as far apart as possible. That's how you stand against the wall. While you're standing there, they ask, «What are you doing here? Who are you? Will you denounce thieves' traditions?» and stuff like that. I knew why I had come there, and I refused to do anything, for which I was punished.
After the search, I changed into a prison garb and grabbed my things. They took me out and led me to what looked like a control room, where they either turned the cameras off or disabled them. And the torture started. They were smothering me – they put rags over my head and one of them sat on my back and jacked my arms all the way up so I could see them in front of me. It took three officers to do this – one was sitting on my back while I was lying on the floor, the second was blocking my oxygen, and the third was manipulating my legs by twisting one way or another, I'm not sure. In such a stressful situation you do not take notice of some things.
They wrapped either my own uniform or a bag around my head. During the process, they kept asking me if I was ready to talk. And depending on my intonation, they drew conclusions. They threatened me with rape.
If they initially told you to follow the rules, and you refused, if they told you to denounce thieves' traditions in writing, and you refused, then they need to extract from you a phrase like: «All right, I understand. Let me go, don't beat me.» I don't remember exactly how long this went on. First the search, then this bullshit, then I had to talk to the chief, Sergey Skabelin.
Sometimes I was moved from the basement to the first floor. It was very cold there, and the water was running right down the walls, but when I got there again in 2019 it was already warmer. I don't know what they did there. There is no hot water in the cells. In 2016 they allowed tea and coffee there, but they just stopped bringing any of it, without explanation. In 2019 there everything was nearly the same, only that time they were focusing on feet. An employee sat on your back. He's sitting on my back and telling a younger officer how to twist my leg or arm. Teaching him. They were smothering me, just like last time.
In October 2017, when receiving a transport of inmates, they killed a non-Russian guy, Islam. They said he hanged himself. Another young kid, Lenya, from Norilsk, also never came back from there.
«They twist your legs and arms until the ligaments snap»
Alexander (name changed at the interviewee's request), was in EPKT in 2017
They twist, break, smother and drown. They do everything that can be done to the human body.
When you arrive at EPKT, they send you straight away to the search room. There they put you up against the wall, twist your arms behind your back and start torturing you in all kinds of ways. I was tortured by at least five people. It's hard to count them all, because you're always upside down or with your head in a mattress. They put a bag on my head and suffocated me until I lost consciousness. Sometimes they overdo it, because lethal outcomes happen often. They twisted my arms. I had a ligament torn in my arm. They also twisted my legs until the ligaments tore, or even worse. Now my arm hurts a lot and my legs and knee joints hurt.
They worked on me for five hours. I did not try to remember those who were there. I know for sure that the head of security was there when I arrived. To be honest, I don't remember his last name or first name. I remember the detachment officer, Derevyanko. And Stepchenko, an operative, I think. Before the torture in the detachment officer's room, they put me in the so-called «cage». I waited until they were ready to torture me. They took me to an inspection room, began to inspect my belongings and gradually humiliate me.
They demanded I sign a paper that I would be law-abiding and comply with all requirements of the administration, as well as renounce all thieves' traditions. After the torture I was kept in the basement for another three or four days. At that time the human rights activist Valiery Slepukha came to EPKT, but for safety reasons I did not say anything to him, because all the rooms there were bugged and watched. It makes no sense to say something because then you could end up in the middle of nowhere. In a room with so-called instructors, who not only use physical force, but sometimes also cat violently. If you say or do something, they either take you to the instructors or hide you when people like Slepukha come to visit. Sometimes they say that you are being transported to another prison or that they don't know your whereabouts.
Prisoners forced to abuse each other
«Sergey Skabelin, chief warden of EPKT, comes in, drinks tea, and watches people being tortured»
Mikhail (name changed at the hero's request), was in the YPT in 2017
I stayed there for three months, arrived in the middle of the summer and left in the fall, in October. Inmates were brought up and tortured one by one in the search room. Before the torture they kept me in the room of the detachment officer. They tortured me last, from lunch till night, and took me to the cellar past ten o'clock. They handcuffed and tortured me. They did it on a mattress - one of them sat on my back, with my legs tied, handcuffs biting deep into my wrists, another one put a bag over my head, and a third one smashed my heels with a mallet. My heels were as black as shoe soles.
Sergei Skabelin, chief warden of EPKT, came in, drank tea and watched me being tortured. When they smother you with a bag, you lose consciousness for a while, then come to your senses, and the torture starts again. You turn your head and he's standing right in front of you, drinking his tea and watching.
The detachment officer Derevyanko <EPKT detachment officer Alexander Derevyanko – The Insider> and the deputy head of security, a senior lieutenant, took part in the torture all the time. Stepchenko, an operative, was also there drinking tea. And there was an operative from the regional operational department of the Main Directorate for Federal Penitentiary Service, Dmitry Popkov. He came especially for me because he had sent me to EPKT from Correctional Colony 17 he supervised. He didn't take part in the torture, he just came and stayed there until late at night while I was being tortured. Then he came up to me and said, «My advice to you is to do what they tell you».
Those who are severely beaten are moved to the basement until they heal, so that no one sees the traces of torture. No one goes into the basement. It is a usual basement, damp, without windows, without anything. It's dark, there's a dim light bulb in the corner. The toilet is in the corner, too. Just a toilet, flush with the floor, that's all. And there was a rat that lived there, he would climb out of the toilet at night and try to steal some soap or something.
I was in the basement for a week, then they took me to a cell. After that they didn't torture me, they just stripped me down to my underpants and locked me in a cage with a concrete floor and kept me there; they wouldn't let me go anywhere, not even to the toilet.
One guy drove two pins into his chest. The one in front was taken out, but they couldn't pull out the one in his side. And when they brought him to the EPKT, he ended up with one pin under his heart. And there was a woman there, a paramedic or a nurse. She looked at the scans and said, «his vital organs are intact. Keep fucking him up.» That's what she said. This woman handed out pills, took your pulse with her foot. When you lay unconscious in the reception area, she checked to see if you'd been killed or not. She was the only one there, she was old. A trusted employee. In my presence that guy wrote a letter to the PMC - «If I am killed, blame the head of the Krasnoyarsk krai Main Department of Corrections».
During reception they damaged my spine, I had three surgeries. My backbone is all titanium after that. I filed a bunch of lawsuits, but it was useless, because the Krasnoyarsk krai Federal Security Service was protecting them. I went through all the courts and sent a paper to Strasbourg. I received an answer: «We do not accept your claim, don't write to us anymore». And then I got a reply from the Russian Post: «We lost your letter». I open the French Postal Service website and see that my letter has no tracking number. That is, it never arrived in France at all, and I got an answer from the basement of the FSB. I write to the Russian Postal Service, and they reply: «We'll figure it out»; I write to the prosecutor's office, the prosecutor's office sends my letter to another agency, and in the end, I get no answer at all - either from the prosecutor's office, or from the Russian Postal Service.
«They shoved me against the metal cage until my head cracked open in two places»
Ilya (name changed at the interviewee's request), was in EPKT twice, in 2017 and 2019
When I first came to EPKT in 2017, they sent me to the search room. There is a camera there and they did everything according to the law, treated me politely. There is a metal cage in that search room that they locked me in it after they searched me. I was there for about half an hour, stripped naked, only in my underwear. After half an hour they came back and searched me, then eight officers put me on the floor, held me down, and started beating me on my legs head, and they tortured me from four till eight o'clock. They were choking me, hitting me from above. That was the first day.
Then at eight o'clock they took me to a cell in the basement with concrete floors and concrete bunk beds. They gave me a dirty mattress. They locked me in there. I could hardly walk, my legs were hurting. In the morning they came and said: «Why don't you exercise? Why didn't you do your exercises? Give us back your mattress.» I rolled up my mattress and gave it to them. They took me back out, made me lie on some kind of mattress and started tossing me up and dropping me on the stone floor.
Then they smothered me, and I lost consciousness several times. They injected me with something, probably adrenaline or an energy drug. They were making sure I wouldn't die. During the torture a medic, Nadezhda Gobareva, was present. She felt my pulse by putting her foot on my neck near the cervical artery and said: «He's alive, you can go on». And they continued. She came and gave me the injections and brought me back to life. She said to me: «Well, why do you keep fainting, kid? Be patient, you're a man!»
On the third day they took me out again at two or three in the afternoon, they didn't feed me, and left me in a metal cage in my underpants. Then, after a little while, they came in and said, «Let's make him fly like a bird». Two of them grabbed my hands, two of them grabbed my feet, and they started beating my head against the metal cage. And that's how they hit me until my head cracked open. My head cracked open in two places, I had a hematoma. The then chief warden of EPKT Skabelin was present during this. He was shoving me against the metal bars. And when they were stitching me up, he was standing right next to me. All this torture took place under his supervision.
They needed me to write a letter renouncing the traditions of thieves and saying I would cooperate and follow the daily routine. And they needed me to apologize to the officers of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia in the Krasnoyarsk krai on camera. Ostensibly for the failure to comply with the orders of the administration and follow the routine.
Then they left me alone because my lawyer came to see me there. The lawyer came and saw those lacerations on my head. He asked, «What happened?» and I said, «They beat me up». Somebody told me he wrote a statement to the Investigative Committee, but they refused to open a case. I have not received any documents about the refusal.
In 2019, when I was sent to the EPKT for the second time, the management of the colony threatened me: «Now we'll send you to EPKT and they will torture you there. What you saw was nothing». But the second time they didn't beat me or touch me at all. When I arrived I cut the muscles in my arms. Naturally, I was worried they might start torturing me. Then they started working me over and said, «Is this how you want to scare us? If you don't write a denouncement, we'll torture you». But they didn't torture me, they just locked me alone in a cold cell and kept me there all the time, but they didn't touch me because my lawyer started coming to see me. I demanded that a case be opened against them, because they had tortured me previously, I was concerned about my life and health. I wrote complaint, and the prosecutor arrived, but to no avail.
I don't have any evidence other than the fact that they cracked my skull, but they said that I had cracked it myself. It takes a lot of beating to crack one's skull at the top of one's head and leave a huge bruise.
A still taken from one videos showing torture at the Saratov prison
«You start fighting back, they hit you with a taser – they just stick it in and hold it there until it discharges»
Vladimir (name changed at the interviewee's request), was in the EPKT five times: in 2005-2006, in 2006-2007, in 2007-2008, in 2009-2010, and in 2019
When I was there for the first time, in 2005, Igor Kulagin was chief warden of EPKT. From there he moved to Correctional Colony 31, then to the Vladimir prison as its chief warden, and then to the central apparatus of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service; now he is a general in Moscow. After him was Antropov or Andropov. They tortured both under Kulagin and under Andropov. After Andropov the chief warden was Sergei Bychkov, who went from there to the Minusinsk prison; now he is head of security here in the Krasnoyarsk Directorate.
I'm a frequent visitor at EPKT-31, and it's always the same. When you first arrive, you are searched. During the search, you are tortured. They force you to do exercises on video camera, to wash and sweep the floors, to sign denunciations of some thieves' incomprehensible ideas. In every way they try to create a situation when you are forced to say «No», in order to be able to use any means necessary including physical force.
It all starts when they ask you to face the wall and begin kicking your legs apart - one officer pushes you against the wall between your shoulder blades so you don't fall down, and the others pull your legs in different directions. Those who can stretch their muscles well, they go lower, but those who can't - they may have their ligaments torn.
They may hit you in the genitals, and in fact anywhere else. The last time I was there, they had tasers too. If you start resisting, they hit you with a taser - they'll just stick it in you until it discharges. Usually, if you put up resistance, they taser you once and that's it, but there they just keep frying you. They strip you naked or tear your clothes off, smother you with a pillow. The last time I came to, there was an ambulance waiting. They put a pillow on my face and held it down with a foot. There was not enough air and I lost consciousness. The ambulance came, the doctors did not react in any way, they looked at my pupils and measured my blood pressure, gave me an injection and that was it. I had no idea what was going on. They were talking about something, there were some noises. The next day the wake-up call was again at five in the morning. There was nothing human there at all.
«They twisted my joints and hit me in the groin and the anus with tasers»
Andrei Oboskalov, was in EPKT in 2020
First they search you, and then they bring you to the office of EPKT chief warden Degtyarenko. The chief warden lays out four sheets of paper in front of you and says: «Either you renounce thieves' ways and any claims against the administration of this institution and write a statement of cooperation, or you will be very sorry».
If the inmate refuses, they have a specially designated place in front of the warden's desk, where they torture you with electric shockers or by drowning you in a bucket of water or twisting your limbs out of joints. They are reluctant to beat you up because they don't want to leave bruises, although such cases have been reported. They twisted my bones out of their sockets and hit me in the groin and the anus with shockers. They took me to the point where I developed hemorrhoids and had to undergo surgery after I left EPKT.
In EPKT I asked the medical staff for help, and they gave me suppositories, but they refused to take me to the hospital. In the hospital there is more freedom, more opportunities to inform your relatives you are being tortured. The prison staff try to avoid sending you to a hospital, they allow it only in emergencies. They didn't consider my case an emergency, and it didn't matter that I was bleeding from my anus. They didn't care about that.
After the torture I signed a paper saying I had no claims. When they make you say it, they don't ask you to put a date on it. If an inmate has a complaint, they can always put a fresh date and say: «Look, the inmate has no claims as of this date».
I was in EPKT for four months. They tried to make me apologize on camera. They tortured me three times during that time. They have a well-established pattern. You don't even realize how fast it all happens. They twist you up, put your face on the floor and then they start - they hold you down and twist your arms behind you, or they shove you against the wall and kick your legs apart. They have different methods to avoid bruises and injuries, so the inmate won't be able to complain with no evidence of torture. Yet, it hurts like hell afterwards. Sometimes they may get carried away and snap your tendons or something else. There are no visible marks on the body, but the pain is infernal, and you constantly suffer afterwards because you can't sleep or do anything at all.
«They made me undress with the camera on»
Kunay Abbasova, lawyer of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Bar Association «Consul»
In December 2018, lawyer Kunay Abbasova (who then had the surname Ilyasova) arrived at the colony to meet with her client Bairam Abbasov, who was held in EPKT. At the meeting he told her about the torture. Abbasov was afraid they would kill him and make it look as if he committed suicide. He put his complaints in writing and handed the statement to his lawyer. As soon as he handed her that paper, the Federal Penitentiary Service officers, led by the EPKT chief warden Skabelin, came into the visiting room. They told Ilyasova that the meeting was over and took Abbasov away. The lawyer was taken to Skabelin's office and asked to see the statement given to her by her client. Ilyasova refused. She was then taken to the checkpoint and her belongings were searched several times, after which a female officer was called in to conduct a body search, recording the procedure on video. According to Abbasova, she, a Muslim woman, was compelled «to bare her various body parts». Chief warden Sergey Skabelin was present during the procedure. Shortly thereafter, the lawyer filed a lawsuit against the administration of Correctional Colony 31.
«I understand they had an interest in my client. That's why he was brought to EPKT. When I filed the lawsuit, Skabelin came to court to testify about why I was searched. He said they allegedly had information that my client had the intention of disorganizing the colony and that his visitor would be involved. Given that my defendant arrived at the colony on December 17 in the afternoon, and I visited him on December 18 at lunchtime, there's no way he could have planned any disorganization there within twelve hours. That's just nonsense. The court asked Skabelin, «What is this disorganization you speak of?» - «It's that we had to search the lawyer instead of going about our usual business.» Disorganization is a crime, punishable by prison term from seven to fifteen years. I understand they wanted to charge my defendant with another crime,» - Abbasova told The Insider.
In May 2019, the Sovetsky District Court of Krasnoyarsk ruled that the lawyer's personal searches and censorship of her correspondence with her client were illegal. According to Abbasova, shortly after the court granted her lawsuit, she was put under a wiretap by the FSB. The wiretapping was motivated by the fact that the lawyer was allegedly going to bribe an officer, who served at the Correctional Colony 31, with 50,000 rubles in exchange for the transfer of an inmate from one region to another. «But, the question is, if I was going to bribe someone, why did it have to be an EPKT-31 officer?» says Abbasova. «The colony officers do not handle such matters. Only Moscow, the Federal Penitentiary Service deals with prisoner transfers. What kind of money is fifty thousand rubles? It's nothing. It's clearly not enough to arrange a transfer. Indeed, I was trying to arrange a transfer, but I acted through a court».
In April 2020, Abbasova was prosecuted for illegal migration, and despite having two young children, she was sent to a pre-trial detention center. In June, the court changed her restraining measure to house arrest, and in November her arrest was canceled. Abbasova explains the criminal case and the wiretapping by the pressure exerted on her by the Main Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service.
Later they simply stopped admitting her to Correctional Colony 31. «I went there to see my client, but they did not let me in, and they didn't bring the client to see me. They brought a statement saying he renounced me and no longer needed the services of a lawyer. That same evening the relatives of the client called me and told me they had received a call from the colony and the caller had asked them not to make a fuss. The case against the client was already in court and he was supposed to be transferred to a penal settlement. The caller told the parents that if they supported the lawyer and did not do what he told them, the colony would subject the client to administrative liability, and he would not be eligible for a transfer to a penal settlement. Naturally, I had nothing to say to that,» she says. «Then my colleague called me and told me that the other inmate had been beaten up. They had been asking him, «Who's Ilyasova? How do you know her? Why is she your lawyer?» In fact, they intimidated him and told him it was better for him if I stopped seeing him, or else he would suffer dire consequences. And that's it, they officially closed Correctional Colony 31 for me».
«They made every effort to prevent us from being convened once again»
Valery Slepukha, Former Chairman of the Krasnoyarsk Krai PMC, Human rights activist
Valery Slepukha monitored detention facilities in the Krasnoyarsk Krai from 2012 to 2018, he made reports on torture, recording video messages from inmates, and writing complaints and letters to the Investigative Committee and the prosecutor's office. As a result, he and his team were simply prevented from being convened once again. «They made every effort to prevent us from being convened. It turned out it was not very difficult to do, they just asked the Public Chamber to bar certain people from participating. They're simply afraid, because we know what to do, how to find out things. We had a lot of information from everywhere».
According to the human rights activist, the pressure on him has not let up. His telephone conversations were tapped, and problems were created for the business entities he was running, so he was forced to cease his business activities.
«They found people with whom I was in contact, and they put pressure on them. I had serious problems with my business, so I had to abandon it. I lost a lot of money and I'm still in debt,» says Slepukha. «This comes from personal sources. People told me, «We were given certain instructions and we cannot do otherwise». Some decent people warned me. People close to the circle I trusted also said they couldn't help. They told me it was better to give up everything and stop meddling.»
Ivan Astashin contributed to this story
Русская версия текста - здесь