Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into a regional prison warden’s alleged abuse of inmates after the publication of a social-media video that appears to substantiate prisoner accusations of violence earlier reported by Current Time and the independent Russian outlet Mediazona.
The Karelia branch of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s central investigative body, announced on October 14 that it is examining Federal Penitentiary Service employees’ alleged abuse of power and use of violence at Penal Colony (IK) Number 9, a crumbling high-security prison in the northern Russian city of Petrozavodsk.
The Federal Penitentiary Service’s deputy director, Valery Masimenko, told the Moscow radio station Govorit Moskva on October 12 that the government will fire the prison’s warden, 32-year-old Major Ivan Savelev, and have him stand trial if it is proven that he features in the social-media video.
The video, published on YouTube and VKontakte, is believed to show Savelev and another prison employee brutally beating a prisoner on the head and back and hitting him in the face.
On September 24, Current Time and Mediazona reported that former and current IK-9 prisoners had complained about routine torture, beatings, and other violations of the law at the facility, but without effect. Questions have also been raised about the alleged 2019 suicide of one prisoner a few months before his expected release.
After the story’s publication, Savelev conducted a media tour of the prison in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that such abuses did not exist.
He later charged that journalists, prisoners who had made complaints, and their lawyer had slandered him and stated that he would ask the Investigative Committee to intervene.
Long a problematic area, Russia’s penitentiary system has come under fresh scrutiny as Russians rely more heavily on the Internet for information.
Last year, an online video that showed some 15 employees at a Yaroslavl prison torturing an inmate sparked calls from the United Nations Committee against Torture for swift reforms. Russia promised that it would prosecute any prison officials suspected of torturing prisoners.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misspelled Ivan Savelev's name as Ivan Savalev. Citing the interview with the Federal Penitentiary Service's deputy director, it also stated that the prison warden has already been fired. As of October 15, he has not been.