Amnesty Documents Uses of Torture by Russian Police

Last week it was Human Rights Watch’s report on how Ramzan Kadyrov’s “anti-terrorist” forces use torture, secret detention, and kidnapping to intimidate and terrorize Chechens. Now Amnesty International has a report on how the Russian police use torture to extract confessions from suspects. Despite efforts to crackdown on police abuse, the report states that since May 2002, Amnesty “has documented dozens of cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment with a view to extracting a “confession” in police custody and pre-trial detention during ordinary criminal investigations across the Russian Federation.” In 2005, NGOs documented 114 cases of torture committed in Russia alone, excluding, excluding of course, the North Caucasus.

The report continues:

Although there are cases of torture and ill-treatment at all stages in the pre-trial detention system, sources confirm that the problem is most acute in police stations and IVSs [Central police detention centers]. On the basis of numerous testimonies from alleged victims of torture, interrogators’ offices in police buildings seem to be equipped with a safe, which contains a range of implements which could be used for torture: rope; electric cables; field telephones; truncheons; handcuffs; sacks; blankets; gas masks. Books and plastic water bottles are also used to hit the detainees.

Amnesty International has also received a number of testimonies about torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in pre-trial detention during times when they are particularly vulnerable to abuse – at night time; at weekends; during quarantine; at the start of a public holiday; in transit and on arrival at a new detention place.

In situations of conflict, the incidence of torture is even higher, and problems highlighted by this report are magnified. Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the practice of torture of individuals held incommunicado in unofficial and unacknowledged places of detention in Russia’s North Caucasus region. Amnesty International has learned of such cases in Chechnya, as well as in the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia. Reportedly, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, the Chechen Ombudsperson for Human Rights, stated in February 2006 that a large number of the 12,000 convicted Chechens in prison in Russia had been falsely accused, and that the majority of the cases should be re-examined. Investigations leading to prosecutions of such allegations of torture are almost non-existent, which has created a climate of impunity in the region.

Here is one documented case from the report:

Aslan Umakhanov, an ethnic Chechen lawyer born and brought up in Yekaterinburg, was detained on 29 March 2006 by police in the entrance of his apartment block. The police officers allegedly beat him before driving him to the regional Department for the Fight against Organized Crime (UBOP), where he was allegedly beaten again. He was then taken to the District Procuracy. His brother looked for him for several hours before finding him by chance in the Kirov District Procuracy. His cheek bones were cut and bruised. On 31 March Aslan Umakhanov appeared before a judge at Kirov District Court. The area around his eyes was deeply bruised and he asked the judge to look at him because he had been beaten about the face and his torso near the area of his kidneys. The judge reportedly did not stop proceedings or order an investigation, but prolonged his detention by two months. He was sent to the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) in Yekaterinburg, which refused to accept him because of the signs of ill-treatment without a medical report indicating that his injuries pre-dated his arrival at the SIZO. He was taken back to the IVS at Frunze Street where a medical record was made of his injuries. The SIZO agreed to admit him once the IVS had formally made a record of his injuries.

On 12 April, Aslan Umakhanov was made to kneel in a vehicle and was driven from the SIZO to the UBOP headquarters in Yekaterinburg for questioning, and put in a room with three officials. Amnesty International has copies of documents authorizing and recording the transfer of Aslan Umakhanov from SIZO to UBOP on 12 April. These documents show that the investigator from the Office of the Kirov District Procurator in charge of the criminal investigation requested and approved the transfer of Aslan Umakhanov to UBOP for the purposes of “operative-search activities”. Prison transport records show that he was absent from the SIZO from 9am to 4pm.

Aslan Umakhanov gave the following account of his treatment, during those hours. He was severely beaten by the officials, sometimes with their fists and sometimes with plastic bottles full of water, in order to force him to sign a “confession”. At one point the men put a book on his head and then beat his head through the book. When he started shouting, they took a blanket from a cupboard in the office and wrapped it round his head. They also plugged two electric cables into an electric socket in the wall and electrocuted him in the heels and in the area near his kidneys. They also allegedly subjected him to racist abuse. After roughly six hours, he agreed to sign a “confession”. Using a rope from the cupboard they tied a 32kg bodybuilding weight to his left hand which dragged his body and head down level with the table. In that position he wrote a confession under their dictation. Later he was made to read it out before a video camera, repeatedly, until they were satisfied. At no point during the questioning was he given access to a lawyer.

This, unfortunately, is only the tip of the iceberg. The report goes on to document cases of intimidation of family members, fear of reprisals, access to legal council, access to doctors, and police attempts to prevent monitoring and circumvent or simply not enforce guidelines and reforms.