“The law is not working yet, but we passed the stage of the problem awareness”: Igor Kalyapin on how the situation with tortures changed in 20 years


03 September 2019
Aleksandra Zakhvatkina / ASI

On 30 August 2000, the Committee Against Torture was established in Nizhny Novgorod – the organization which defends human rights and fights against law-enforcement agencies using violence.

Celebrating its 19th anniversary, the organization issued a comic strip, which describes how it all started. Agency of Social Information’s correspondent talked to founder and Chairman of the Committee Against Torture, member of the Human Rights Council and main character of the comic strip Igor Kalyapin. Mr Kalyapin faced the police (back then it was called “militia”) lawlessness in November 1992, when he was illegally charged with organizing a criminal gang and stealing 150 mln roubles. After a few months of staying at a Pre-Trial Detention Center, Kalyapin was released on recognizance, and sometime later the charges were lifted from him.

Militia, police and the Federal Penitentiary Service

“Probably, the most noticeable change that happened in these 19 years is that the militia was renamed to the police. If previously it was mainly the militia men who tortured, now it’s the police officers and the officers of the Federal Penitentiary Service, which in this interval this time was removed from the Ministry of the Interior’s system and became an independent federal service. Apart from that, very little changed.

In order to be objective it is worth mentioning that very important changes happened during these years at the Federal Penitentiary Service – mainly in the part of the conditions of confinement. The conditions that used to be back then and the current conditions are incomparable. At the present time nowhere in Russia we see the conditions regarding which the first ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on Russian case was passed (this is referred to Kalashnikov’s case – editorial comment) on Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Now the conditions in pre-trial detention facilities and penal colonies are in some places good, in some places not so good, in some places – bad, but this “bad” cannot be compared to what was in the end of the 90s.

In the 90s for several months I stayed in the cell of the Pre-Trial Detention Center, which was considered to be far from worst. The cell for 4 accommodated 11 convicts, lice and bedbugs were all around, we slept in three shifts on one bed with one set of bed-clothes which was all in bedbugs’ spots, humidity in the cell was unbearably high, water poured from the walls, several layers of metal louvers were installed in windows, almost no light came through.

Everything was terrible. Now we don’t have such cells anywhere: no congestion, no stuffiness, no insects. Even if they appear somewhere, it’s an excess, their extermination starts immediately.

Police punishment

But, unfortunately, the attitude of the officers to apprehended persons, persons under investigation, and to convicts did not significantly changed since that time. I see the attitude to people as if they were a cattle and a complete disregard of human rights as such – their mentioning provokes an evil mocking grin of law-enforcement officers.
The Federal Penitentiary Service officers, especially in penal colonies, still think that it is they who are entitled to punish.

They do not provide for the security of the convicts who stay at the place of confinement — they think it is their objective to do harm to a person because he is punished. Because if you don’t do any harm, what kind of punishment is that? The majority of the Federal Penitentiary Service officers keep applying such an attitude up till now.

The same can be said about the police: the police officers think their objective is not to provide the citizens’ safety, but to fight the criminals, not the crime. It is they who is entitled to punish, it is they who decide who is right and who is guilty. It is they who perform punishment from the moment of apprehension – in the measure of their comprehension.

In the majority of the cases it is not the investigator or prosecutor or judges who determine the guiltiness: in fact, the guiltiness is determined by the police officers who draw up the detention reports.

And if they need to, they can forge the evidence, including the one for the criminal case, and if they are not very good at it, they don’t think it’s a big sin to apply illegal violence – the very same tortures. They think it’s acceptable, because they already decided that this person is a criminal.

People used to twist fingers at temples

During these years, a practice formed in Russia, maybe, not wide spread, but still: if 20 years ago holding a police officer liable for tortures was a bombshell, now it is not like that. This is what us and other human rights defenders, human rights organizations and journalists, who are working on this problem, managed to achieve during these years.

Previously, when people heard the name of our organization, they twisted fingers at their temples: the word “torture” was associated with a medieval torture rack, exclusively.

Now everyone more or less understands what it is about. Probably, the majority of people are no longer surprised when they hear the word “torture” and understand that a gas mask, polyethylene bag, a truncheon which is used not according to its purpose – all of these are torture instruments.

In resolving any problem there is such a stage as its awareness. It cannot be omitted: until a person realizes the problem he won’t be able to start resolving it. However, I cannot say that putting a police officer behind bars is easier now than it used to be 20 years ago, probably, just a bit easier, but not much. The Investigative Committee still operates in manual mode, when the mechanism of effective investigation of crimes related to tortures turns on only on command. The law is not yet working, unfortunately”.

Comic strip idea – Ivan Zhiltsov, script – Aleksey Kostin, art – Aleksey Iorsh.

Source: Aleksandra Zakhvatkina / ASI

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