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Heirs Of The Gulag? Russia’s Prison System Faces Harsh Scrutiny

Robert Coalson & Natalya Dzhanpoladova


Russian officials announced recently that the head of the IK-14 prison colony and several other officials had been dismissed after a surprise inspection revealed female convicts were being tortured and forced to work under slave-labor conditions.

Photo Courtesy: Nadezhda Toloknnikova /Facebook.

The news came five years after Nadezhda Toloknnikova, a Pussy Riot protest artist who served nearly two years at IK-14 for a performance at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, published an open letter detailing the horrific conditions at the Soviet-built barracks in a remote, “swampy” region southeast of the capital. She wrote that women were forced to work up to 17 hours a day with one day off every eight weeks and were subject to threats and violent abuse.

Tolokonnikova’s letter followed years of complaints about conditions at IK-14, complaints that continued long after the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) claimed it investigated the allegations and found them unsubstantiated. The complaints continued apace after Tolokonnikova’s release on amnesty in December 2013.

Apparently, Tolokonnikova was correct,” FSIN Deputy Director Valery Maksimenko told TASS on December 24.

The case capped off a tough 2018 for Russia’s prison system.

Simply ‘Off Their Rockers’

In July, a video emerged showing at least 17 guards at a prison in Yaroslavl abusing and beating prisoner Yevgeny Makarov.

“They methodically beat the spread-eagled man on the shins and the bottoms of his feet with rubber truncheons,” the independent Novaya Gazeta described the abuse. “The man screams plaintively, howls, begs for mercy. From time to time, they pour water over his head from a bucket.”

In November, four guards at a prison in Chelyabinsk were convicted of beating inmate Sultan Israilov to death. Officials wrote his death off as a suicide until a mass hunger strike caused a national outcry and prompted an investigation.

Photo Courtesy: PussyRiot / Facebook

​In January, two officials at IK-7 in Karelia were sentenced to prison terms for torturing prisoners and extorting millions of rubles from convicts and their families.

Throughout the year, prisoners-rights activists, including another Pussy Riot member, Maria Alyokhina, who spent two years in prison in the same case as Tolokonnikova, waged a public-awareness campaign under the slogan “FSIN = Gulag.” 

Despite these cases and many more, FSIN deputy head Maksimenko in a year-in-review interview with Interfax on January 8 flatly rejected the comparison between his agency and the Soviet gulag.

“There is not the slightest trace of the gulag in our system today,” he said. “Those times are far behind us. If you understand by the term ‘gulag’ mass violations of human rights, mass repressions, unjust sentences, executions, torture, forced confessions, and so on, then what has this to do with the present day?… If one of our employees beats a prisoner, it isn’t a legacy of the gulag. It is, pardon the expression, that a specific employee is off his rocker.”

Maksimenko attributed such cases to “burnout” brought on by the “colossal psychological pressure” prison employees face from constant contact with criminals.

He added that because of Federal Penitentiary Service’s own commitment to openness, the installation of 22,000 video cameras, and the active monitoring of human-rights ombudsmen and civic organizations, the prison system “has become more transparent than ever before.” The numerous reports of abuse are, in fact, a sign that “people who have been in the prison system are no longer afraid to tell the truth about what they’ve seen there.”

A System ‘Built On Violence’

Makarov, the prisoner who was tortured in the Yaroslavl video, is among the many former prisoners and activists who would disagree. He spent 80 days in punitive solitary confinement after the video went public.

The Russian prison service “has created a little slave state of its own,” he told journalists when he was released after completing his sentence in October. “The law is not being obeyed there at all.”

Nikolai Kavkazsky, an opposition Yabloko activist who has served time on political charges, agrees, saying, “Russia’s entire penitentiary system is built on violence.”

“It isn’t just torture in the normal sense,” he tells RFE/RL. “It is in the day-to-day conditions and in the attitudes of the guard toward the prisoners. The entire system must be reformed.”

There is more behind the behavior of abusive prison guards than “burnout,” says Aleksei Fedyarov, head of the legal department of the prisoners’ rights organization Russia Behind Bars (Rus Sidyashchaya).

“These are normal people,” he says. “Have you read [Erich Maria] Remarque’s Spark Of Life? Middle-class people. Today they are sitting around drinking beer, and tomorrow they become Nazis, and the next day they are among the Nazis who work in concentration camps and burn people in ovens. Then they retire and live out the rest of their lives. Everyone is capable of this. There is a fascist inside everyone.”

Russian prison guards, Fedyarov argues, know what they are getting into. “They go to work there because, most often, they are from poor regions where every schoolchild dreams of a salary of 20,000 to 30,000 rubles ($300-460) and the chance to retire at the age of 35,” he says. “They go there fully aware and voluntarily. And if they are required to beat or kick someone, then that’s what they do because everyone is doing it…. They are going to work in a system that has rotted to the core and that only allows people to work in this way.”

“Is this emotional burnout?” he says. “No. It is just such a person inside such a system.”

It is a system based on violence and humiliation as well as on a strict code of silence regarding such violations, activists say.

According to statistics provided by Russia to the Council of Europe in 2015 on its prisons for the previous year, 4,097 prisoners died in custody out of a total prison population of 671,027. Of those, 404 were listed as suicides, while the homicide figure was “not available.” 

Russia’s mortality rate of 61.1 per 10,000 prisoners was among the highest of the 47 countries studied.

Russia has not provided figures for subsequent Council of Europe reports on prison conditions.

According to FSIN deputy head Maksimenko, in 2017, Russia’s prison population had been reduced to 523,000. Deaths in prison have likely also been reduced because of new legislation making it easier for gravely ill prisoners to receive amnesties.

Emotional Issue

Lawyer Vera Goncharova, who is representing prisoners in Omsk in a high-profile abuse case involving allegations of beatings, torture by electric shock, threats of rape, urinating on prisoners, and more, says she has spent many hours speaking with guards while visiting prisons over the years.

“They know where they are going and why,” she says. “I wouldn’t say there is some sort of sadness or hopelessness in their eyes or thoughts. On the contrary, it is a convenient, reliable job, a job where working for just a few years qualifies you to retire early.”

“In Omsk, you meet many taxi drivers who used to work in the [prison] system, since there are many prisons in Omsk,” she adds. “Now they’re still young people getting their pensions and doing what they like with their time. Obviously, prison work isn’t easy, but they go there consciously.”

Goncharova says the only former prison guard she met “with pain in his eyes” was a man who left the system quickly because “he couldn’t handle it morally.”

“When he talks about it, he cries,” she says. “He goes to church now. He drank for a while, but he has straightened himself out. To this day, he is afraid — afraid of the law and afraid of revenge on the part of his former colleagues.”

Illegal acts, Goncharova says, go unpunished and are covered up by the silence and complicity of other prison officials. As a result, the behavior “assumes monstrous forms.”

It isn’t just that the guard who does such things is psychologically damaged,” she says. “But he also cripples the minds of others.”

On January 16, a district court in Karelia sentenced the former head of IK-7, Sergei Kossiyev, to 2 1/2 years in prison for the beating of political dissident Ildar Dadin and for extorting millions of rubles from prisoners and their families over a period of several years. Former prisoners from around the country traveled to Karelia to testify against Kossiyev.

One of them, Vasily Shambur, tells RFE/RL that the verdict and the sentence filled him with emotion.

“For me and for many others, Sergei Kossiyev is the embodiment of all the traits associated with fascism,” Shambur says. “In his every interaction with people, you could feel his arrogant, humiliating, slave-owning mentality. He didn’t care at all about human rights and had a tendency to inflict pain. The figure of Kossiyev is a monument to sadism that has been pulled down.”

“I would write on the high walls of IK-7 in large letters: ‘FSIM employees! Remember where Kossiyev is. Everyone is equal before the law,'” he adds. “That would be a good lesson for those who have forgotten what it means to be human. And there are still a lot of people like that.”

Activist Sergei Mokhatkin, who has served several terms in connection with his political activism and was most recently released on December 14, also says the legacy of the Soviet prison system is clearly evident in Russian prisons today.

“There are still posters hanging from Soviet times that say that a prison guard is not just a guard but an educator,” Mokhatkin says. “That is garbage, of course. And it really prevents the system from functioning properly. We need to transform it from a system of criminalization to one of socialization. But for now, it is just the opposite: People are not socialized in Russian prisons; instead, their physical and mental health are destroyed.”

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036


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India News Brief

22 September 2020

COVID-19 Total Cases:5,487,580  Deaths: 87,882

COVID-19 At a Glance 

The new guidelines issued by the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on 29 August

Metro rail will be allowed to operate with effect from 7thSeptember 2020 in a graded manner, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MOHUA)/ Ministry of Railways (MOR), in consultation with MHA. In this regard, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) will be issued by MOHUA.

Social/ academic/ sports/ entertainment/ cultural/ religious/ political functions and other congregations will be permitted with a ceiling of 101 persons, with effect from 21st September 2020. However, such limited gatherings can be held with mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing, provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizer.Open air theatres will be permitted to open with effect from 21stSeptember 2020.

Schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions will continue to remain closed for students and regular class activity up to 30 September.
Online/distance learning shall continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged. However, following will be permitted, in areas outside the Containment Zones only, with effect from 21stSeptember 2020 for which, SOP will be issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW):

Cinema halls, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres (excluding open air theatre) and similar places remain closed.

According to MHA directive, lockdown shall continue to be implemented strictly in the Containment Zones till 30th September, 2020.

COVID-19: Highlights 

Religious Places Visit: No Touching of Deity, No Sparkling of Holy Water No Prasada in Temples Wearing Mask Thermal Screening is a must 

Shopping Malls Visit: Elderly People With 65 Years of Age and Children Below 10 Years Are Advised to Stay at Home.

Restaurant and food courts in malls to operate at 50 per cent seating capacity with a mandatory distance of six feet between tables. No common prayer mats, physical offerings like prasad, or sprinkling of holy water, in places of worship. Age and health-based restrictions on stepping out of home. Masks to be mandatory, and the Aarogya Setu app 'recommended' for all.

Use of masks, thermal screening, social distancing and sanitisation, the guidelines  require people above 65 years of age, specially  people with comorbidities, pregnant woman, and children below the age of 10 years, to stay at home. Masks are mandatory at all times, including inside restaurants

Standard Operating Procedures issued by the Indian Health Ministry 

  • International air travel, Metro rail services not allowed 

Cinema halls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars and auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places; and, social/ political/ sports/ entertainment/ academic/ cultural/ religious functions/ and other large congregations will not allowed..

According to MHA guidelines, in Phase II, schools, colleges, educational/ training/ coaching institutions etc., will be opened after consultations with States and Union Territories.

There shall be no restriction on inter-State and intra-State movement of persons and goods. No separate permission or approval or e-permit will be required for such movement

But  states have the freedom to decide on public movement.

How to identify Fake News or Messeges on Social Media 

Beware of Fake News and Fake Messages on Social Media

Always follow websites or social media platforms of traditional media outlets whether newspapers, magazines,Television News Channels or Radio Stations and authentic online only media outlets.They still maintain journalism excellence and stress on reportorial talent.On the other hand, fake news websites run by people with non journalism background and promote their own ideology with fake news and disinformations and obviously conspiracy theories.

But unfortunately mainstream media also manipulates news to establish their story angle.There were various instances when News papers and TV Channels promoted fake news/conspiracy theories in the form of out of context or manipulated pictures/videos and distorted informations.

Always check the URL of any website.Some fake news websites look like the orginal and popular one the same layout,Logo but if you check the URL you may find extra words like if the orginal website's URL is www.xxx.com the duplicate one might be www.xxx.com.co or something like that so first check the URL for authentic informations.

Check whether photos are original or photoshopped.Check Google images for authenticity.You can find help from Google Reverse Images search.

Check the news sources from other websites whether they picked up the story or not.

Whether the website layout is little bit clumsy and obviously grammatical mistakes and spelling mistakes and excessive use of Sex related and sensational and hate stories.Because sex and hate sells.

Follow official websites relating to COVID-19

WHO Clarifies the disinformation about the virus:
COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates
Cold Weather and Snow can not kill the new coronavirus
Taking a Hot Bath Does Not Prevent COVID-19
COVID-19 Can not be transmitted through mosquito bites

Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth)

According to World Health Organization (WHO): Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water

Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth . If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early

Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slight runny nose, until you recover.

If you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition

Follow WHO guidelines


When you follow COVID-19 related news and messages from social media then check and recheck it before consuming it.Follow journalism mantra: if your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Most of the messages or informations quote different organizations like WHO, UNICEF, UNDP,Cambridge University  or other well known institutes,organizations or individual to authenticate the messeges.Check official websites of these organizations  if stories are repeated there

Forwarding messages from unknown sources or little known sources, it would be better to ignore it.

Check whether any logo like UNICEF or WHO or other organizations used in the messages which look similar to original logo.

These type of messages are full of Grammatical mistakes and spelling mistakes which are quite uncommon in original messages.

Don't rely on viral social media messages such as Coronavirus Infected Indian Currencies of Rs.500 and Rs.2,000 Notes Found, Muslim Man Spit in Food At Indian Restaurant.....Always Check Authentic Sources.

Some fake messages pretend to be real one like unofficial Twitter handle of international media organizations like BBC,CNN,Washinton Post, New York Times-check the official Twitter handles of media outlets.

You can identify fake messages if the message requests you to share it.

Beware of Fake News or Fake Photos/Videos Relating to Communal Hatred

Always check the fact checking sites if you have some doubts about the authenticity of any information or picture.












The Same Method Applies to You Tube Videos Check the Source the credibility of the Source.To Check Fake You Tube Videos Check and Recheck the sources. Does the person have the legal right to the video posted? Did that person capture the video? Whether it has been altered?

But due to advancement of technology we can not really wipe out fake news.According to experts advent of  Artificial Intelligence(AI) some companies small or big one developing  technologies that can  lay digitally created script to anybody's voice  even words,sentences never said by the person.Even they a.re developing a technology which can create fake video footage,images,audios like originals.So be cautious! Rumour-mongers are active everywhere whether in physical world or cyber world.

For any further information relating to fake news and how-to search authentic informations from the internet write to us info@crimeandmoreworld.com or Whats App:+919073399779

COVID-19 Related Conspiracy Theories:



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