Former inmates at a prison in Russia have spoken out about abuse suffered in the nation’s penal system, explaining how they were systematically raped, tortured and blackmailed.
Saratov prison hospital, located in the nation’s southwest, last year became the target of human rights groups focused on atrocities committed in Russia.
Previously leaked footage revealed the sexual abuse and degradation of prisoners inside the brutal Russian jail.
Former inmate Alexei Makarov said he was well aware of the prison’s reputation in 2018, right before he was transferred to serve part of a six-year sentence for assault.
Speaking to the BBC, Makarov said he was generally unwell during his time behind bars. He contracted tuberculosis — and hoped he would be spared the abuse — but instead experienced a nightmare beyond words.
Makarov said he was first tortured in February 2020 after refusing to confess to a supposed plot against the prison administration.
He claims he was then subjected to continuous violent sexual abuse by three men.
“For 10 minutes they beat me, ripped my clothes. And for, let‘s say, the next two hours they raped me every other minute with mop handles,” he said.
“When I fainted, they would splash me with cold water and throw me back onto the table.”
Victims claim the abuse is often sanctioned by prison authorities, and is used to capitalise on prisoners’ weaknesses via blackmail and intimidation to force a confession.
Sergey Savelyev, who worked in prison‘s security department, managed to smuggle footage proving allegations of abuse used against inmates.
He agreed the torture is approved even by the highest levels of the prison’s administration, describing it as an “organised system”.
Denis Pokusaev, another inmate who was serving a three-year sentence for fraud, said he was repeatedly tortured to confess to dealing drugs.
“[They] told me: ‘Do you think we care whether you are guilty or not? You came from a riot – so you are going to be held accountable for that’,” he said.
“The abuse went on for almost three months every day, except weekends.”
In November 2021, a graphic video, which was obtained by an ex-prisoner and sent to human rights platform Gulagu.net, was shared online by activists in the hope of exposing the alleged inhumane, commonplace practices in the notorious OTB-1 prison hospital.
The NGO leaked other videos in October 2021, with one claiming to show an inmate being sexually assaulted with a pole at the same prison.
Gulagu.net claimed it had received hundreds of allegations of torture within various prisons across the nation.
Posting on the Gulagu.net site, Vladimir Osechkin described the alleged abuse of male inmates within institutions of the Federal Penitentiary Service as a “conveyor belt of torture”, and said the torture was overseen by Russia’s Federal Prison Service (FSIN) and FSB spy agency.
He said the latest footage revealed “more than 10 grave violent crimes” by officers at the Saratov prison, which subjected victims to “torture and humiliation”.
Mr Osechkin claimed the torture was carried out “on the instructions of high-ranking officers” due to prisoners’ alleged “snitching” and refusal to “co-operate”, and that the “torture and rape” of at least eight men were filmed on “official video recorders”, with the abuse carried out in a prison hospital “in which sadists were officially employed as orderlies and caretakers as an operational cover”.
The victims included Russians, Chechens, Dagestanis, Georgians, Azerbaijanis and “representatives of other peoples inhabiting the Russian Federation”.
Mr Osechkin claimed the abuse was part of a systemic, organised operation designed to blackmail or force prisoners into incriminating themselves, providing false information or even being recruited as undercover agents.
“It is obvious that an organised criminal community has been operating in the services of the (prison system) for a long period of more than 10 years, which paralysed the normal activities of the penitentiary system and turned a number of … institutions into torture centres, where they massively beat and tortured prisoners, forcing them to self-incriminate, to give ‘necessary’ testimony, to co-operate and work as undercover agents,” he said.
“This is the most massive crime in which high-ranking officers of the Federal Penitentiary Service and the FSB are involved.
– with Alexis Carey