‘A secret special forces archive’ Human rights group obtains massive video leak evidencing widespread torture in Russian prisons
The human rights project Gulagu.net (No to the Gulag) reported on Tuesday that it had obtained more than 40 gigabytes of recordings evidencing the physical and sexual abuse of inmates in Russian prisons. The group also published three video clips that allegedly show security officials abusing inmates at a prison hospital in the Saratov region. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) responded by launching an internal investigation and the Attorney General’s Office launched its own inquiry, as well. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that if the recordings are deemed authentic, they will be “cause for serious proceedings.”
On Tuesday, October 5, Gulagu.net reported that it had more than 40 gigabytes of video evidence showing Russian security officials torturing and sexually abusing prison inmates. To back up its claims, the human rights group released three video clips that allegedly show the rape of three inmates at a prison hospital in the Saratov Region.
According to Gulagu.net founder Vladimir Osechkin, this footage is from a “secret special forces archive” that was leaked to the rights group by a programmer who, during his five years in prison, had access to Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) computers in the Saratov Region. Last month, Gulagu.net published five photographs showing incidents of sexual violence and torture in a prison hospital in the region.
Osechkin said that the inmates shown in the video clips released on Tuesday were abused by “covert” FSIN and Federal Security Service (FSB) agents. The incidents of torture and rape were recorded using official video cameras. The human rights activists also have evidence that officers from the FSIN’s central headquarters (the Main Operational Directorate) were involved in abusing inmates, as well as officers from the penitentiary service’s headquarters in the Irkutsk region, and departments in the Saratov and Vladimir regions, Osechikin added. Gulagu.net plans to publish this evidence in stages.
On Tuesday, the Federal Penitentiary Service launched an internal investigation in response to the evidence of torture published by Gulagu.net. “To verify the authenticity of the information, a group of employees from the central office were sent to the Saratov Region by the director of Russia’s FSIN Alexander Kalashnikov,” Interfax reported, citing the penitentiary service’s press service. The spokespeople also underscored that the FSIN’s top brass had taken special control of the internal investigation, Interfax said.
Update. Later in the day on Tuesday, Interfax reported that according to an informed source, the head of the Saratov Region’s FSIN department, Alexey Fedotov, was resigning following the torture allegations. “Fedotov wrote a resignation letter. He is currently on a vacation, from which he may not return to work,” the source said. Fedotov’s resignation has yet to be confirmed officially.
The Russian Attorney General’s Office also launched its own inquiry. Official spokesman Andrey Ivanov said that based on the results of the probe, the Attorney General’s Office will give “an assessment of the observance of convicts’ rights to personal safety.” “The fulfilment by penitentiary system employees of their official duty to ensure the rights of persons serving sentences will also be checked,” Ivanov said.
“First, everything needs to be checked,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday, when asked about Gulagu.net’s reports. “If the authenticity of the materials is confirmed then, of course, this is cause for serious proceedings,” he added, emphasizing once again that “first we must quickly, but calmly, work out and establish the authenticity of these materials.”
After Gualgu.net announced the video leak, its website came under a DDoS (denial-of-service) attack. Vladimir Osechkin believes the cyberattack was the FSB and FSIN seeking “revenge” over the exposure of their “secret methods” and their “secret archive” being taken outside of Russia.
Gulagu.net announced that it was evacuating its activists from Russia for safety reasons in the summer of 2021. The human rights group, which specializes in defending the rights of Russian inmates and collecting data on illegal actions carried out by prison officials, promised to keep publishing investigations.