Vienna, March 29 – Slightly more than one Russian in five has been subjected to various forms of abuse and even torture by the militia, prosecutors and the FSB, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Committee Against Torture.
Over the last three years, institute researchers under the direction of Professor Yakov Gilinskiy, an internationally recognized expert on social deviance, surveyed 5565 residents of the cities of St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Pskov, Chita and in the Komi Republic (http://www.nr2.ru/nn/111852.html).
Gilinskiy told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” this week that 21.3 percent of the respondents said they had experienced abuse and torture at the hands of the Russian authorities and that 68.7 percent – more than two thirds of the sample – said that they felt that they could not defend themselves against illegal physical acts by the police.
The militia was responsible for the greatest number of acts of abuse, if not for the most serious forms of torture. Among the most widespread forms of torture used by police, prosecutors, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) were beatings, holding in cold and unsanitary rooms, bullying, and various forms of physical humiliation.
Other forms of torture – including simulated drowning, electroshock, and dousing with extremely hot or cold water – were less frequently reported, Gilinskiy said, although in the Komi Republic, the use of simulated drownings was relatively common, with some 20 respondents there saying they had been subjected to that form of abuse.
According to the sociologists, Russian police and prosecutorial officials apply tortures most often on men aged 21 to 40 who have middle or incomplete higher education. And the survey found that those who were subject to torture were mistreated anywhere from a few minutes to as much as 72 hours per incident.
Gilinskiy pointed to five reasons for this unfortunate and unacceptable situation. First, he said, there has been a dramatic decline in the professionalism of law enforcement personnel over 15 years. Second, what he called “a repressive mentality” remains widespread among legislators, prosecutors, judges and militia men.
Third, many poorly paid junior police officials torture to extract funds from those in their hands. Fourth, this pattern is yet another reflection of the continuing influence of the Soviet “totalitarian regime.” And fifth, many more senior officials want cases closed quickly and do not care very much about how their subordinates achieve that result.
Despite the professionalism of this survey, its findings should be treated with care. On the one hand, respondents varied widely in their understanding of just what “torture” in fact is. And on the other, similar studies in other countries suggest, people tend to overreport the number and severity of such incidents unless they fear retaliation.
But at the same time, the fact that so many Russians have experienced mistreatment at the hands of the police and even more feel defenseless when in the hands of officials both represents a clear indictment of the Russian authorities and a pattern that is likely to require much effort and many years to overcome.