© Reuters Prison guards are seen outside Regional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 1, a medical institution run by the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) department in the Saratov region, in the Russian city of Saratov. Reuter / Philip Kochetkov
By Andrew Osborne and Angelina Kazakova
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities said on Wednesday they had fired five senior prison officials and launched a criminal investigation into alleged torture and sexual harassment at a prison in the Saratov region.
Authorities began work after the prisoner rights group, Gulagu.net, began releasing graphic video evidence in a prison about 500 km (5050 miles) southeast of Moscow.
It said it had found a large leak of documents, photos and videos proving that hundreds of people across the prison system had been tortured and raped by other detainees directed by prison officials.
Vladimir Osechkin, founder of Gulagu.net, told Reuters that the abuse was taking place in various parts of the country. “There was a system of torture and it is still going on,” Osechkin said.
“… they (the authorities) are afraid to admit the truth in public, and the truth is horrible because the truth is that their special services have been torturing the people extensively.”
The annoying nature of the footage and its seemingly methodical nature caught the Kremlin’s eye, which said Tuesday that there is reason to seriously investigate if the footage is authentic.
The situation in Russia’s prisons was already in focus after Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny turned his attention to them earlier this year, and six former inmates and a former prison inspector told Reuters about beatings, sexual harassment, severe stress and medical negligence by regular guards.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which looks into major crimes, said on Wednesday that it had launched an investigation into sexual violence and abuse of power.
The Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) said it had fired five senior prison officials, including the director of the prison and the head of the regional prison service.
Russian law says detainees should not be treated in a way that is “harsh” or “degrades human dignity.” If a prison official abuses his position, he could face up to a decade in prison.
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