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Rights of prisoners in Russia routinely violated - ombudsman

Moscow, 14 February: Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin thinks the rights of prisoners and convicts in Russian penitentiary facilities are regularly abused, and custody conditions are comparable to torture.

"The mail of the ombudsman shows that the rights of prisoners and convicts in Russian penitentiaries are still routinely violated. Specifically, the unjustified use of physical force and special devices, as well as the equally unjustified penalties and many other violations are rife. The conditions of custody in many penitentiaries are actually similar to torture," says an annual report of the Russian ombudsman published on his website.

In addition, Lukin says "such diseases as tuberculosis, including its drug-resistant form, are widespread among the convicts; the number of HIV-infected people is rising".

"This generally disturbing situation can be attributed not only to the poor performance of penitentiary system personnel, but also to the extremely slow reform of the principles on which the system is based," Lukin said.

"The crime policy of the government is not aimed at introducing punishments that are alternatives to imprisonment. A long-needed bill on the social rehabilitation of people released from custody has not been passed yet. Because of this, the total number of people being kept in custody remains unreasonably high, which, consequently, makes it impossible to create the necessary material and psychological provisions to protect their rights," the report points out.

According to the ombudsman, one of the fundamental reasons for the unsatisfactory state of affairs in guaranteeing the rights of prisoners and convicts is a lack of an effective mechanism of public control over the penitentiary system."

A draft law "On public control over securing human rights in custodial facilities and on the assistance of public associations in their operation" was passed in the first reading in the State Duma more than three years ago and "is stuck fast in the legislative labyrinth", Lukin pointed out.

"Since then, the title of the bill has become more complicated and, alas, much less meaningful. (The new title "On public control over guaranteeing human rights in penitentiary facilities and on public associations' assistance of those in penitentiaries" is patently absurd)," the report says. (Passage omitted)

In the reporting year, around 3,000 letters were sent to the human rights ombudsman by people in Interior Ministry pre-trial detention centres, prisons and other penitentiaries of the Federal Penal Service, and prison-type hospitals.

"More than one-third of the appeals received contained complaints about illegitimate actions of penitentiary personnel, such as beatings, torture, unjustified use of special devices and methods etc," the report says.

"Complaints about custody conditions and violations of rights to health care and medical help made up less than 20 per cent of all appeals received. The largest number of appeals was sent by people kept in custody in Arkhangelsk and Samara regions."