stories

“You won’t save anyone” What happened to Ildar Dadin before and after he wrote his letter on torture in prison

Meduza
12:38, 14 november 2016

Inside Penal Colony #7

Photo: Pavel Chikov

On November 9, Anastasia Zotova, the wife of Ildar Dadin — the Russian oppositionist who revealed the torture that he was enduring at penal colony number 7 in Russia's North-West — had a meeting with her husband. It lasted four hours, over the course of which Dadin shared a detailed account of what happened to him since the day that he entered the prison and after Meduza published his letter to his wife on November 1. Anastasia Zotova recorded Dadin’s story. The following version is slightly abridged.

This is not a prison; it is a concentration camp. People are not kept here to be corrected; they are kept here to be bullied. I am asking that a statement be sent on my behalf to the Investigative Committee to reveal that the prisoners at penal colony number 7 succumb to a whole range of torture. The beatings and torture continue even now, despite the intervention of [the Human Rights Commissioner] Tatiana Moskalkova and HRC [Presidential Human Rights Council] members Paul Chikov and Igor Kalyapin.

I hear people being beaten; I can hear them screaming. I know that the cold, hunger, and torture continues, and I cannot complain about this myself. I am ready to name specific dates, but only in private conversations with human rights defenders, because I fear that prison employees will delete these videos, as well. (Pavel Chikov said that the recording of Dadin being beaten may have been deleted, as footage is stored for only 30 days and the incident took place in September). I know that recently, they erased videos from hard drives. I ask you to request all video footage from all cameras, at least those that survive. Confirming my words will be easy, because beatings take place here almost everyday.

I ask you to file a complaint with the investigative committee, because I myself cannot do it myself. It is only possible to write anything during our private time; we are given half an hour of private time a day. The rest of our time is dedicated to work, for example cleaning the cells. Moreover, if you finish cleaning with half an hour, you cannot do anything else and must sweep the floor a second and even a third time. If they see that you are not working, they send you to a punishment cell. This reminds me of the stories I read about Nazi concentration camps when prisoners were forced to engage in meaningless work, for example, to drag and drop bricks from one location to another.

Personal time is spent almost entirely on walking from the cell to the warehouse where all personal belongings are kept. Even food. By the time you arrive, you have but five minutes left, and you understand that you have no time to write any complaints. You try to eat instead, because you had spent all day dreaming about a small piece of bread and a sausage, just like in the story “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. You have dreams of food at night. When you imagine someone visiting you, you think not of hugging your wife or your sister, but of someone bringing you food. I think that prison staff reduce our personal time, taking advantage of the fact that we do not have watches and cannot keep track [of time].

The terror begins upon a prisoner’s arrival, when he is thrown into a special cell for newcomers. Prison officials initially told me that this was a quarantine, but, in fact, it is a cooler chamber. I learned that this was a cooler when I was forced to sign a protocol in the cell for allegedly possessing razor blades (which are actually placed into the cells of all newcomers).

A solitary cell in Penal Colony #7
Photo: Pavel Chikov

They threw me into this “cell for newcomers” several more times. In total, I spent 45 days there, and it was 45 days of hell. In this chamber, there is no insulation. If it is -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). You are given only one robe, and all of your personal belongings are taken away, so you cannot keep warm. At night, I lay under a blanket; I had cramps from the cold, and all I thought about was to last even a week. I dreamed of food. In the early days, I went on hunger strike, but was then forced to give it up and was force fed. I brought a guide to internal regulations on food standards with me, but had it taken away. I tried to remember the details from memory, to compare [with my actual conditions]; it appeared that portion sizes had been cut by about half. Torture, cold, and hunger can be endured for a day or two, but when this goes on constantly and you do not know when it will end, it is simply intolerable. I was waiting for help; I asked to have letters sent to the addresses of my wife and my mother ([prison officials] are required to do so by law). But I did not know my wife’s address by heart and I was not allowed to check in the notebook. They said: “If you do not remember, we could not care less.” I wrote down my mother’s address. It seems that that letter did not arrive either.

On September 11, for the first time, I tried to do a “rastyazhka”, which is when you stand two steps from a wall with the back of your hand pressed against it. Your head is faced down and your legs spread out as wide as possible. When a prisoner stands like this, he is easy to beat. They hit his head – the back of the head, the temples – not with fists, but with palms, leaving no traces. They hit his feet – but with the toe of the shoe, but a flat sole – striking the body, the legs, the inside of the thighs, and the groin. When you try to protect yourself with your hands, they strike you them, as well. A bruise from a blow to my elbow took about a month to heal. There were also bruises on my inner thighs. They hit you until you fall; when you rise, you are beaten again until you agree with what they say. They say, for example: "You are a jerk; you are a faggot," and you must answer: "I am a nobod;, I a faggot." I am now forced to say: "Putin is our president", because I am an oppositionist.

And you cannot see the faces of those who hit you, because you stand with your back to them. And they do not present themselves, of course; they beat you anonymously and with a sense of impunity. At some point, I could no longer bear it and screamed. A paramedic came up to us and said: "stop beating him already." I asked her name, so that you might have a chance to use her testimony, but she did not name herself. This torture goes registered.

In video recordings, the staff try to speak politely. For example, when I arrived in the colony and complained that part of my personal belongings had been lost, the staff member said into the recording: "It is all right, your belongings arrived here”, though even reality they did not. I did not see them. My razors, for example, are gone. I was given those that are distributed here, but they barely shave, and almost pull the hair out. One member of the colony who watches as you try to shave says: “Come on, shave better. Or we’ll send you to the cooler chamber.” The bath, where are a lead once a week, is technically the only place where we can warm ourselves. But the staff turns off the hot water, and when you say that the water is cold, they answer: "No, it is hot." And you have to wash under a cold shower.

When they started to beat me, I quoted Article 21.2 of the Constitution: “No one shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." To this, they reply in all seriousness: "You do not understand that does not apply the Constitution in this place." Meanwhile, Article 15.1 of the Constitution says that the document is valid throughout the territory of the Russian Federation. So, I do not understand. Did they decide to boycott the constitution in penal colony number 7. Did they secede from the Russian Federation?

Igor Kalyapin from the President's Council on Human Rights inspects Penal Colony #7. November 7, 2016
Photo: Pavel Chikov

On September 12, the officers came again and told me to get out of the camera for an inspection. I realized that now would beat me again and said: "What does it matter where you're hitting me, in the chamber or in the hallway?" Then they turned on the video recorder and started to do things "by the rules". They said that use force against me, ran up to me and start to wring out my hands. In fact, their use of handcuffs was still illegal, because I did not resist, so what was purpose of using handcuffs? I deliberately kept my hands together so as to avoid being accused of resisting.

From the first time, the employees were not able to shoot a beautiful video. So they released me, left the room, and started anew. Opening the door, they asked to come out of the camera. I gave them the same answer, they warn me about the use of force, and pounce on me. They only succeeding in filming everything as they pleased on their third attempt. The employees shouted in the video that I was grabbing them by the clothes, but this is not true and should be visible in the video. And I should be heard refusing to get out of the cell, saying: "I do not care where you are going to beat me." I am very pleased that a part of this video ended up in the hand of the Russian media. Now the penal colony will not be able to say that it had been deleted. And if you ask for the entire video, you will see that they pulled me out of the cell and beat me. I cannot specify the names of those who were involved. But one had the rank of a major and the other was a senior lieutenant.

When they beat me, they put a hat with earflaps on my head as if it were a bag so as to close my eyes. I thought that now they would kill me and that it would all be over and smiled. This angered them further, someone said, "Look, he's still smiling." They began to beat me harder and demanded that I apologize to [chief Sergei] Kossiev for my behavior. After that, they put me my knees and began mockingly quoting parts of my letter to my wife. Then they pulled down my pants and carried me away somewhere with lowered pants and a hat on my head. Through a narrow strip between the cap and my face I saw a yard. Four people raised their hands, already handcuffed, and tied me somewhere, but I was able to get on my feet. Then one of them said, "No, that will not do" and I was put in such a position where standing was not possible. It was immensely painful and I felt the tears snot, drool begin to flow. I struggled not to scream.

They took off my underwear, and one of them said: "Now you will be raped, call ... " either Venya or Benya. Another angry voice asked why he was pronouncing names. The first man replied: "He cannot see anything." Someone went after this Venya. A few minutes later, they told me that there was a last chance for me to avoid being raped and that was stopping the hunger strike. I agreed, but they said that I would still had to hang for a while that they they would me down only after a call from the administration.

Half an hour later I wanted to scream, but I realized that I could not say anything; when I tried to breathe in and out, there was no air. I could only breathe quickly and nervously. Then, they finally released me. The staff voiced their demands: I was to end the hunger strike and apologize to Kossiev. First released with hand, and it hung like a whip, then the second. Someone laughed, I going to fall, but I did not fall, though I could not straighten my back. They filmed all of this on video and perhaps showed it to Kossiev afterwards.

Head warden's office
Photo: Pavel Chikov

I did not know yet how to decipher Kossiev’s initials. All this torture, all of these beatings occur here only with his consent. When we talked, he said: "Yes, we beat the prisoners here." As if that is his right. And he said: "You have not beaten severely. If I order it, you will be hit even harder." I said that I would be on hunger strike until a public prosecutor was brought here, but Kossiev just laughed and said that if I complain, I would be killed and buried. I realized that he is not afraid of inspections and public prosecutors.

There are inspections in the colony, but they are very strange. That is, you are forced to look at the floor and you see only the shoes of the inspectors. The names of those who come – whether from the penal colony or the Commissioner for Human Rights or the prosecutor's office – are not exactly named. Those who are beaten and who have bruises, are hidden in the cooler chamber during inspections. If you talk with someone, you will be tortured in the presence of those very penal colony employees. And, if you complain about them, they will remember you and beat you even harder. Therefore, it makes sense only to talk to prisoners in private.

When I was told my lawyer Alexei Liptser about the incident, I was very much afraid that you would not publish this letter out of fear for me. But on November 1, I realized that you had done everything and had done everything correctly. The colony’s staff began to worry. I was taken to the medical unit, however, was not told where or why. They stripped me naked and started shooting a video without explaining what was happening. I was transferred from the cooler, though not put into ordinary containment conditions, but instead in a cell for violent inmates. There was another person sitting with me; he was really crazy, to the point where he smeared feces all over the wall. Recently, he was taken away somewhere, probably to the cooler.

Moscow investigators arrived on November 2 and 3. I complained I was sitting with a madman, but prison officials told the investigators that this was for my own “safety”. Then they talked to local staff and I got the impression that the head investigator was very friendly with the head of the local staff, but I still told them everything. I did not even realize that I was having a seizure with them; I felt that I was swinging and I could not stop it; that my body was not listening to me. Then at some point, I could neither breathe, nor gasp, and felling into darkness. Nobody told me that me that there were convulsions and froth. I only hazily felt that I was being carried and undressed. Then I felt myself receiving a shot in the buttocks. And my teeth hurt; perhaps they were being loosed to pull out my tongue.

The next day, I was taken somewhere else and was not told where. I saw a beautiful lake through the window of a paddy wagon. They took a scan of my head; the results did not show anything wrong. If I had known that I would be taken to the hospital, I would have requested a scan of my heart, as I recently had chest pain.

Now, I am no longer beaten, but they continue to torture me just for fun. For example, I had been told: "So you had to complain? You have achieved nothing other than exposing yourself to the world as a loser. You won’t save anybody.” Another staff member said: "You are political, now you will not leave the cooler chamber until the end of your term."

The administrators of penal colony number 7 have yet to not comment on the statements made by Ildar Dadin.