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December 22, 2014

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Figures, comparisons, conditions

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is often described as the most famous prisoner in Russia. In October 2007 he finished his fourth year of imprisonment. A second Yukos detainee, Vasily Aleksanyan, interned without trial for the last 21 months, has suddenly drawn worldwide attention to the conditions of their incarceration. So what are Russias penal colonies and remand centres like today? How typical is the treatment these two men are receiving?

The questions and answers, from official sources for the most part, that follow give a clear description. They also explain how surprised or shocked fellow citizens may have been by the treatment of Vasily Alexanyan.

(Based on a presentation given in December 2007 to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg by Yelena Liptser, defence attorney to Platon Lebedev.)

A large prison population, by any measure

How many are imprisoned in Russia?

Today there are 886,361 prisoners in Russia (1 November 2007, official Federal Penitentiary Service figures).

There was a decline from 980,200 prisoners in 2001 to 763,100 prisoners in 2004, since when the total numbers imprisoned have steadily risen again.

How does Russia compare with the rest of the world?

Russia has the third largest number of prisoners in the world. Only the USA and China have more. And the numbers are still going back up.

Russia has over 140 million inhabitants. In proportion to its population is it keeping many of its citizens behind bars or barbed wire?

Another way of understanding how much imprisonment is used as a punishment in different parts of the world is the Prison Index, i.e. how many prisoners there are for every 100,000 people in the country.

In most member-states of the European Union the index does not exceed 100 per 100,000 (the EU average is 90).

In Russia the figure is 628 individuals per 100,000 population, a level only exceeded by the USA (and French Guiana).

Why the number of prisoners is still growing

Why has the prison population, after going down, started going up again?

Most rights activists in Russia agree that the rise in numbers of those imprisoned setting aside other more general causes is due to the following, in decreasing order of importance:

The established bias of Russian courts towards conviction,

The rare use of alternatives to imprisonment
(fines, community service, etc),

The readiness of judges to approve requests from
the prosecutors office and investigative bodies to impose custody as a measure of restraint for suspects & defendants,

The authorities lack of compassion. Lately there has been a disturbing decline in the number of pardoned and amnestied prisoners.

Trial by jury has not become widespread, and the number
of cases tried before a jury remains very small.

Can the chances of being convicted, if you are brought before a Russian court, be illustrated?

In 2006 910,000 people were found guilty by the courts. That compares to only 8,700 who were acquitted that year, less than one in every hundred.

What kind of courts are these?

As of 1 January 2007 trial by jury, introduced a few years previously, was still not widespread. It was available, by choice, in only 20 of the Russian Federations 88 Regions. In the remaining court cases verdicts and sentences are reached by a panel of judges.

Even so the contrast between the two is striking. In 2006 trials heard by a jury led to the acquittal of one in five of those brought before the court.

What proportion of those held in prison conditions are remanded in custody, waiting for trial?

Some idea can be obtained from the following facts.

More than 30,000 people are arrested in Russia every month. Law enforcement agencies in 2006 made 249,478 petitions to the courts for those arrested to be remanded in custody. 91% of all such applications were approved.

Law enforcement agencies made a further 209,686 petitions for extending detention of these pre-trial inmates in custody. In this case 98% of all such applications were approved.

The conditions inside

What are conditions like in Russias penitentiary system?

In Russia today prisoners are held in 766 penal colonies; 216 pre-trial detention or remand centres (SIZO); 7 prisons; 160 premises functioning as pre-trial detention centres (SIZO); and 67 juvenile correctional facilities.

Speaking recently on radio, Yury Kalinin, the head of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS), said that the budget for a prisoners daily nutrition is 56 roubles, about 1.5 euros or 2 dollars a day.

Nine out of ten prisoners suffer from one disease or another, admitted Yury Konotsa, head of the FPS medical department, in November.

Over a third of prisoners (314,000) have seriously contagious infections. For example, 40,000 are suffering from the active form of tuberculosis and 32,000 are HIV-positive.

What hopes are there of improving these conditions? They sound pretty bad.

The number of complaints from penal institutions has been rising. This is acknowledged by everyone, not just human rights organisations and the Russian Federations official human rights Ombudsman but the Prosecutor General's office and the FPS.

The ombudsman Vladimir Lukin received about three thousand appeals from prisoners in 2006. He considered that half of these required his intervention but, presenting his annual report, he noted that in only 123 cases could violations of prisoners rights be documented.

The Prosecutor General's office received 40,000 complaints from prisoners, only 6% of which were upheld. The FPS received 340,000 complaints about conditions in which prisoners were being held and unlawful behaviour on the part of penal institutions administration. According to Yury Kalinin, however, after investigation by his organisation and by the Prosecutor General's office only 0.3% of these complaints were upheld.

What do people on the outside think about Russias penal colonies and prisons?

A public opinion poll, conducted in October, produced the following results. 72% of those polled think human rights are violated in Russia. 40% believe political prisoners exist in Russia. 59% think torture is used in Russia to browbeat suspects into admitting their guilt.

The polling body was the respected Yury Levada analytical centre ( )and the general question put to its representative sample of the population was: Are human rights observed in Russia?

In what conditions are Mikhail Khodorkovsky being held?

His mother describes a recent visit to her son, over 3000 miles from Moscow in Chita.

Do Khodorkovsky, Lebedev and the dozen other imprisoned former Yukos employees and associates receive special treatment?

Yury Schmidt on the re-introduction and addition of the punitive internal exile or banishment element to imprisonment by sending those convicted to very distant regions (Bakhmina, Khodorkovsky, Lebedev) and, of course, its retrospective legalisation as applied to those three Yukos victims by the Duma.

According to the sentence of
the Moscow City Court,
Mikhail Khodorkovsky
will be released in
-1155 days

Mikhail Khodorkovsky 4075
Platon Lebedev 4190
Svetlana Bakhmina 3667