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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Capital Punishment, Russian Style

An editorial in the Moscow Times:

Eight employees at a Chelyabinsk region prison have been arrested in connection with a riot at the institution in May that ultimately led to the deaths of four inmates.

The employees, whose arrests were authorized by a local court, were on duty when the riot broke out at Prison No. 1 in the city of Kopeisk on May 31, regional Investigative Committee official Yelena Kalinina said last week, Interfax reported.

Prosecutors said that four inmates had attacked employees with razors and makeshift blades, and that they were ultimately subdued by prison guards with rubber truncheons.

A doctor examined the four shortly after the beatings and said that none of the inmates' lives was in danger due to the injuries, reported.

The inmates, who were then placed in separate cells, all died later that same day, the regional Investigative Committee said.

The arrested guards' colleagues pleaded with the Investigative Committee that none of the suspects was a flight risk and that there was no need to hold them. Interestingly, the initial reaction of the Federal Prison Service leadership to the events surrounding the riots and the deaths of the four prisoners was to defend the guards, and their immediate commanders even considered rewarding them with apartments, national press reported.

In contrast, local human rights activists welcomed the arrest, noting that they had long received complaints from inmates at Prison No.1 about brutality on the part of the guards.

The regional Investigative Committee should take this investigation seriously and prosecute the guards if evidence is found of wrongdoing. It should also investigate the doctor, who somehow deemed the inmates fit to remain in cells. With no access to medical treatment, the prisoners died hours later.

This incident is one of the few cases in which so many prison guards have been charged with brutality, and this should serve as a signal to the Federal Prison Service that it is time to put an end to these abuses. Rather than maintaining corporate solidarity by rewarding excessive use of force against inmates, those in charge of the prison service would do well to enhance oversight of the conduct of their personnel and develop nonlethal, less violent methods of breaking up riots, which seem to occur regularly in prisons across Russia.

The same goes for law-enforcement agencies whose personnel use force illegally against suspects and witnesses. In one case reported by the national media last year, police officers even beat up a doctor who refused to agree that a suspect they had assaulted was fit to remain in his cell. The doctor argued that the inmate should have been transferred to a clinic.

Unless such horrendous abuses stop, Russia will never become the rule-based state of law-abiding citizens about which new President Dmitry Medvedev constantly speaks, no matter how many times he repeats this mantra.

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