Russia's Proposed 'Law of the Sadists' Slammed By Human Rights Activists

Russian Prisons
Inmates stand inside a temporary cell for recently arrived prisoners at a high-security male prison camp outside Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Prison guards in Russia could be given greater authority to use violence against inmates, if proposed legislation, dubbed "the law of the sadists" is given the go-ahead by law-makers.

The legislation in question, submitted by the government on 27 May, sets out various responses to inmates who threaten them or disobey prison rules, according to Global Voices Online, broadening the circumstances under which prison security officers can use force against inmates. Under the bill, guards would be able to use electroshock weapons against inmates.

In the event that a prisoner is killed while being subjected to one of these restraints, the new legislation would grant prison authorities 24 hours before they would have to contact the police. Security officers would also not be held liable if inmates suffered injuries in circumstances when guards used "justifiable" violence against inmates.

On 5 June, the head of Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service said that the law simply "clarifies the moments when a guard has the right to use physical force." The law has also been defended by authorities who say it is a response to an alleged increase in the numbers of riots within prisons.

According to Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watch's Russia programme director, in the days after the bill was introduced to the Duma, a group of leading Russian human rights defenders including the former Soviet dissenters Ludmilla Alexeeva and Sergei Kovalev, picketed the State Duma protesting the draft legislation.

"If adopted this legislation is likely to result in a significant deterioration of the situation of prisoners in Russia," says Lokshina. "Use of violence by prison staff against inmates is already an issue - and by giving the staff a looser framework for allowable use of force the authorities will undermine prisoners' safety and protections."

A spokesperson from one Russian organisation that campaigns for prison reform, but who wishes to remain anonymous due to a new law in Russia which can shut down international NGOs deemed to be "undesirable" , also criticised the lack of detail set out in the legislation.

"The definitions are too vague for such a sensitive law that contains the use of force and weapons," the spokesperson said. "Force could be used when prisoners violate the regime, even if prisoners simply make verbal demands, and the word of the guard would weigh much more than the word of the prisoner. In closed institutions like prisons, it's almost unbelievable to think the prisoner could prove the force was used without proper grounds," the source continues.

One prominent opponent of the bill is former Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, who, along with bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spent nearly two years in prison after taking part in a "punk prayer" performance in Moscow's main cathedral that mocked president Putin in 2012. They were released as part of an amnesty deal and have since devoted their time to raising awareness of prison conditions in Russia.

Alyokhina told RFE/RL's Russian Service that if the legislation is adopted, "any remaining humanism in the penitentiary system will be simply killed."

"If this law is approved, using batons or stun guns will be solely at the discretion of a single guard or correctional officer," Alyokhina said.

Alyokhina also expressed concern that the legislation was so vague that the circumstances whereby a guard could resort to violence would be vast. "What is a violation of the prison rules?" she said. "It could be an unmade bed or an unbuttoned button."

Alyokhina has in the past described her prison sentence as being filled with "endless humiliations", which included forced gynaecological examinations almost every day for three weeks.

Earlier this month, Russian human rights activists donned stilettos, a dog collar and a leash to protest the proposed legislation.