The Constitutional Court of Russia has shut down a complaint by civil liberties activists, who have accused detention center officials of interfering with their attempts to speak with detainees about abuses they had suffered.
On Monday, judges ruled that, according to existing Russian laws, officials were within their rights to ban conversations “with no relation to the custodial conditions” in the facilities, effectively prohibiting discussions about mistreatment elsewhere in the system. The court also accused the Public Monitoring Commission (PMC), the agency whose members had lodged the complaint, of interpreting the laws “subjectively” and “abstractly.”
In October, leaked footage showed staff in a Russian prison colony inflicting horrific abuse, including torture and rape, on inmates. The incident sparked calls for prison reform, with Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of the group who shared the videos, saying that the clips “prove that grave and especially violent crimes were regularly committed against prisoners, which were carefully concealed.”
According to the court’s decision, the laws, which prohibit conversations with detainees about abuse that took place outside their detention centers, do not violate “the subjective constitutional rights” of the PMC members who brought the claim.
Grigory Vaypan, a Russian human rights lawyer, told newspaper Kommersant that the restrictions infringe on the rights of more than 100,000 detainees across the country. He explained that the current restrictions make it impossible to determine if inmates have been abused by the police, because even if marks of violence are obvious, officials can prevent investigators from asking about where the injuries came from.
Vaypan said that the Court’s ruling “bewildered” him, and added that he plans to appeal to other authorities to have the decision changed.
Alexey Melnikov, a representative of the PMC, told Kommersant that he thought Vaypan’s figure of 100,000 was an overestimate. “In my experience, I’ve never once been prohibited from discussing what happened when someone was arrested, or asking if they had a complaint about their health,” he said. He added that regional detention center officials often aren’t familiar with the laws, and therefore “don’t cut off conversations when human rights defenders ask about something unrelated to custodial conditions.”