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‘They promise to dig up old cases’ Russian authorities reportedly using threats of prosecution to pressure prisoners into joining Wagner Group
Russian authorities are using the threat of new criminal cases to pressure prisoners into joining the Wagner mercenary group, the independent media outlet Agentstvo reported on Wednesday.
Lawyer Yana Gelmel told Agentstvo that the tactic is being used in prisons in the Samara region, the Rostov region, Krasnodar Krai, and the North Caucasus. “Officers from the Interior Ministry or the FSB come and promise to dig up old cases from 10–20 years ago whose statutes of limitations have already expired. They intimidate people, saying they’ll launch proceedings against anybody who refuses to go to war,” Gelmel said.
Oksana Asaulenko, a journalist and human rights activist, told Agentstvo about similar cases in Perm Krai. One prisoner who only had five months left in his sentence, for example, told his mother that he had been forced to sign a contract with Wagner Group, according to Asaulenko.
Another lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to journalists that authorities have been using threats to “recruit” prisoners into Wagner Group. According to the lawyer, the practice is most common in prisons located near the Ukrainian border.
Agentstvo’s sources also said that authorities have begun offering to let new arrestees in remand prison join Wagner Group in exchange for having their cases dropped. This practice has reportedly been used in Samara, Moscow, and Perm.
According to Yana Gelmel, these new “recruitment” methods are a response to the fact that the number of prisoners willing to sign contracts with Wagner Group is waning as news of the high casualty rates among Wagner fighters in Ukraine reaches Russia’s prisons.
In January, Russia Behind Bars head Olga Romanova reported that out of the 50,000 Russian convicts that had been recruited by Wagner Group, only about 10,000 were still fighting. The rest, she said, had “either been killed or wounded, or went AWOL, or deserted, or surrendered.”
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