A Russian prison official has been jailed for at least two months after footage of him punching, kicking and pulling the hair of female inmates was leaked online, sparking outrage and calling the country’s penal system into question.
 
The videos, which were filmed in 2008 at a prison in Russia’s eastern Amur region, shows a prison official, identified as deputy warden Sergei Zychkov, viciously beating his female detainees in a cell. Posted on October 24 2011, the graphic footage quickly caused a scandal in the blogosphere, prompting Russian authorities to open an official investigation into the case. Three days later, Zychkov was arrested on charges of abuse of power.
 
WARNING: THESE VIDEOS CONTAIN DISTURBING IMAGES
 
A prison official identified as deputy warden Sergei Zychkov punches, kicks and pulls the hair of a female detainee. Video posted on Youtube by MrArtur113.
 
According to Russian media, when asked about the beatings, Vitaly Karnyayenka, the chief warden at Amur’s women’s prison was taken by surprise, saying “I think this video is a fake”.
 
Video posted on Youtube by MrArtur113.
 
Russia’s penal system, however, has long been notorious for these types of abuses. In 2003, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) published a report that found women in Russia’s prisons were often forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary and violent environments. Some inmates told stories of being deprived of food, of being beaten by guards or other detainees, or more alarming still, of torture.
 
Video posted on Youtube by MrArtur113.

“I think some of Russia’s prisons can be compared to World War II era concentration camps”

Lev Ponomaryov is a Russian human rights activist and politician. He serves both as director of the Moscow-based organisation For Human Rights and as deputy chairman of the board of the Foundation for the Protection of Prisoners' Rights
 
I think some of Russia’s prisons can be compared to World War II era concentration camps. We hear reports of inmates being beaten, tortured and raped. Prisoners also have very little recourse in such instances of abuse, because it’s nearly impossible to lodge a complaint or alert anyone on the outside.
 
Guards are rarely the ones to actually beat their prisoners. More often than not, they will order ‘aktiv’ – prisoners sentenced to long-term sentences for violent crimes such as murder or rape – to mete out physical abuse. In exchange, the ‘aktiv’ are rewarded with special privileges.
 
Many of Russia’s prisons are like black holes – one of the only ways for us to gather information about what’s happening on the inside is from former detainees, or relatives of inmates. Our organisation works hard to collect whatever information we can, and occasionally we’re able to force the authorities to fire or open a criminal case against abusive prison staff.
 
Despite these victories, the system hasn’t changed. As soon as we get rid of one bad guard, another is hired to replace him. I think this is because abuse is essential to Russia’s penal system. Almost every region has at least one ‘torture’ camp which is used as a way to suppress or threaten vocal or unruly prisoners.
 
Finally, I also believe that part of the reason why these sort of abuses are allowed to persist is because Russian society just doesn’t care. When I’ve discussed violence in prisons on radio talk shows, people reacted by saying, ‘Let them all die there’”.
Post written with freelance journalist Ostap Karmodi.