Former inmates recount self-mutilation in Russian jail

Beatings and bullying have been taking place for years at the prison in western Russia where hundreds of prisoners have mutilated themselves in an unprecedented act of protest, advocacy groups and former inmates said this week.

“According to our figures around 800 people” mutilated themselves at the number three prison in Lgov, in the western province of Kursk, said Igor Mikhalevich, local representative of the For Human Rights organisation.

Inmates at the prison began cutting their necks and stomachs with razor blades on the night of June 26-27 and 1 300 of them have since gone on hunger strike, according to Alexander Malygin, an inmate released from the jail on Friday, who presented his account of life in the prison to journalists in Moscow.

“This event is without precedent. Never before in contemporary Russia have such a large number of people mutilated themselves,” said Lev Ponomarev, director of For Human Rights.

About 150 relatives and friends of the inmates have camped outside the prison gates in protest and are demanding the dismissal of the prison’s director, Yuri Bushin, whom they accuse of participating in abuses.

“After the first night ... they took dozens of people out of the prison.
We do not know ... how many of them were on the point of death,” Ponomarev said.

A list of 47 of the men who were taken out was read out to relatives outside the prison, said Ponomarev.

“I was being beaten from the day of my arrival in the prison on May 14,” said Malygin, who was transferred to Lgov after spending most of his two-year term at another jail.

Malygin said that shortly after his arrival prison staff tried to force him and three other inmates to carry an armband worn by inmates who collaborate with the administration. He refused.

For their defiance the prison director, Bushin, alluded to a homosexual inmate, and said, “Okay, if they don’t want to, let him sodomise them,” Malygin recalled.

“No one plotted, everyone did their own thing. I saw other people cut themselves, I saw the blood when I went to the toilet,” Malygin said.

A criminal investigation has been opened against prisoners whom the authorities accuse of pressuring fellow inmates to mutilate themselves.

“I only had three days left, but I cut myself anyway. I couldn’t take it any more. They were beating me too much,” Malygin said. “If you came out of the prison hospital you got put in the ‘profilaktika,’ where you got beaten and Bushin was doing the beatings too.”

“The profilaktika is a game where five to seven people use an inmate as a ball and throw him around. A human being. My son,” said Valentina Veber, the mother of another inmate.

“They beat them until their kidneys give way. There are some kids who go blind,” said Irina Ganitskaya, head of a support group for relatives of the Lgov prisoners.

Denis Pavlov, who spent 30 months in the prison and was released a year ago, is now an activist with For Human Rights, one of the main organisations monitoring the situation in Russian prisons.

“I saw 18-year-old kids who had just arrived pushing nails into their lungs to go to hospital,” said Pavlov, adding that he was beaten frequently.

The association released a report in 2004 criticising overpopulation, illnesses and violence in Russia’s jails and describing at least 10 cases of Russian special forces meting out beatings in prisons.

Bushin has been temporarily suspended from his duties during the current enquiry into events at the prison. “There is no question at the moment of criminal charges against him,” the spokesperson for the Kursk regional prosecutor, Vasily Chepakov said on Monday. Criminal inquiries were opened against his two deputies on Friday. - Sapa-AFP

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