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26 Nov, 2012 02:56

Several injured as police suppress Russian prison riot

Eight riot police officers have been injured in attempt to rein in a two-day prison riot over what inmates claim to be the harsh conditions of Russian prisons. Conflicting reports suggest protesters outside the facility were also beaten.

On Saturday, which was deemed as a visiting day inside Penal Colony No. 6 in Kopeisk, in the Chelyabinsk region, hundreds of prisoners walked out, demanding relaxed conditions and the immediate release of some inmates from solitary confinement. Relatives awaiting visitation rights outside the prison joined in the protest as well.The detainees made placards that read “We have a thousand on hunger strike” and “Help Us,” and hung them from the top of the prison’s roof.Investigators have been called in to examine the prisoners' demands. Following a brief investigation, special riot police units were summoned to the prison to restore order, while the city of Kopeisk was locked down.“During an operation to restore order in the prison, eight Chelyabinsk Police OMON [riot police] officers received injuries,” police officials said.Later on Saturday, relatives that were denied the right to see inmates sided with the prisoners, and were also dispersed by the police. According to law enforcement, the younger crowd appeared to be drunk and started a disturbance. The police detained around 39 of those involved.

Conflicting reports on harsh police tactics

But people outside the detention center – even simple passersby unrelated to the riot – claimed they had been attacked and injured by the police.“Saturday was supposed to be a visitation day. People started gathering in the morning – some have come from far away – for the long visitation hours. They were all stopped at a door without any explanations. It then became clear that something was going on inside,” activist Valeriya Prihodkina told Lenta.ru.“Suddenly OMON, special riot police appeared, and other services, including fire trucks. That is when the relatives started panicking,” she added.Members of the Public Oversight Commission also appeared but were refused entry, Prihodkina explained – adding that once they left, “the carnage began.”“The police attacked us with sticks, without any distinction,” she said.Oksana Trufanova, a human rights campaigner and coordinator of Gulagu.net, told reporters that she had been hit on the head by police officers without provocation.Police, however, denied the claims of unreasonably attacking the protesters outside the prison, saying that “media information about a person being beaten by a Chelyabinsk police OMON officer is unfounded.”Meanwhile, human rights activists claim that the number of prisoners participating in the protest is far greater than the official estimate, and could be as high as 1,500 inmates. According to human rights campaigner Dina Latipova, the rioters shouted that they are “tired of enduring torture, abuse, beatings and confinement as a way of punishment for the slightest offense.”

Riot planned in advance?

Local human rights ombudsman Aleksey Sevastianov, who went inside the colony to investigate the prisoners' demands, gives a different account. He says that no unlawful acts against prisoners have been committed, adding that besides small number of relatives who gathered outside there were some “suspicious, slightly intoxicated people.”Furthermore, Sevastianov explained that the rioting in the colony – along with the demonstration at the prison gates – was arranged in advance. “What is of concern is that the external environment was prepared for protest. There were not that many relatives who have gathered near the colony. They were mostly people from 27 to 40 years old, throwing snowballs at riot police. I saw it myself,” Sevastianov told Lenta.ru.Then, as witnesses confirm, “bottles were thrown into the police lines and people in cars tried to break through the riot police,” Sevastianov elaborated. “It is a fact that this action was planned.”

Meanwhile, the convicts are still continuing their protest, prison press officer Ivan Mishanin said. “FSIN [Russia's penal system administration] staff from Moscow have arrived at the prison to sort out the situation,” RIA reports.Russia's Investigative Committee is looking into the events surrounding the protest, including the inmates' refusal to obey prison staff's orders.In May 2008, twelve new inmates were brutally beaten by 18 wardens inside Colony No. 1 in Kopeisk; four died from their injuries. During the investigation into the incident, prison officials told the inquiry that the inmates had attacked them. In May 2011, eight were sentenced to various jail terms while the others received suspended sentences.Russia has numerous problems with its prison system, ranging from overcrowding to unsanitary conditions. But it is often judged by the tragic consequences of its most famous scandals, like the case of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in police custody from a number of medical conditions after he was prevented from receiving treatment.