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“I hung there trussed up like a broiler”: Prisoners of a penal colony in Petrozavodsk tell of torture and the chief who ‘likes to beat people’
Update: Prison warden Ivan Savelyev and his deputy, Ivan Kovalyov, were arrested six months after publication. They were charged with torturing prisoners.
Correctional colony No.9 (IK-9) in Petrozavodsk is for prisoners who have been convicted of particularly serious crimes: murder, robbery with violence, drug dealing. In Petrozavodsk, one of the prisoners, for example, is Anzor Gubashev, sentenced to 19 years for his role as an accomplice in the murder of the politician Boris Nemtsov, and the ex-deputy of the Daghestan People’s Assembly, Mahomet Magomedov, serving a 16-year term. They and other inmates recount how in “No.9” they are drenched in cold water and stood out in the frost for complaining, how they conceal the crimes of the employees, who first extorts money for repairs and then makes the convicts do the work themselves.
“In fifteen minutes, you will have a massive heart attack”
“That day, deputy BOR chief Alexei Fedotov, and the then chief of the operations department, Ivan Savelyev, were doing the rounds. When they came in, our cell monitor Rakhmachon Rakhmatov was performing his Namaz or daily prayers. He didn’t get up or interrupt his prayers. The next morning Rakhmatov was summoned for a talk with Savelyev. He was away for about forty minutes. When he came back, he was not his usual self, but frightened and agitated. He told me that Savelyev had threatened to beat him up and even kill him”.
This all happened in November 2013 and at the end of August 2019 prisoner IK-9 Sergei Tarasov told the lawyer Viktor Molodyozhnikov about it. He had been in the colony for murder (convicted under art. 105 of the Criminal Code, part z) since 2005 and still had two years to serve. 59-Year old Tarasov has problems with his sight and can barely see. His quiet voice is heard on the audio made by his defense counsel. Tarasov recounts how he tried to calm the terrified Rakhmachon down after he came back from the operatives, but then he had to go to the medical office. When he returned, his cell mate was no longer there: he’d been taken to the IIW, the investigatory isolation ward.
“In that room he had been badly beaten up by the operatives; they had injured his internal organs”, Tarasov continued. “Rakhmachon couldn’t stand up and kept screaming. They carried him out on a stretcher, first to the first-aid unit and then called an ambulance; they gave him painkiller injections and he was then transferred to the hospital in the town of Medvezhegorsk near IK-9. Six days later he passed away in agony. The prisoners he knew said that he screamed horrendously day and night. One of the prisoners by the name of Koremakhunov managed to sneak into the ward: Rakhmatov managed to tell him that he had been beaten by Ivan Kovalyov and Ivan Savelyev. They’d beaten him up cruelly – hitting and kicking him”.
Tarasov and Rakhmatov shared the same cell together. Straight after this incident Tarasov was transferred for three months to Segezha: he didn’t complain to anyone at the time about what had happened to Rakhmatov, but supposed that the colony employees found out that the victim had told him about Savelyev’s threats. On his return to IK-9 Tarasov was summoned to the operatives’ room, where six men set about beating him up.
“They beat me for an hour and a half” – recalled Tarasov – Savelyev, Kovalyov, Stupov, Shalyapin, Mashkin… I can’t remember the name of the sixth one. It was more like they were trying to do me in: they kicked my head in, knocked out my teeth, jumped on me, stepped on my throat… then they dragged me over to the washbasin, put my head under the cold water and brought me back”.
In the operatives’ room the torture continued: Tarasov told us himself that they forced him to crouch down and placed a bar under his knees, then put his hands under the bar and handcuffed them. After that they hung the prisoner up, placing one end of the bar on the chair and the other on the window-sill: “I hung there trussed up like a broiler. Ivan Savelyev stood next to me and kept repeating: “in fifteen minutes, you will have a massive heart attack”. They poured cold water over my head as to prevent the blood flow… They blew cigarette smoke over me, spat in my face… I don’t know how I stayed alive” – he continued – “Then they took me off to the medical unit: my blood pressure had fallen to 90, then they gave me a painkiller, but I still didn’t sleep that night, my whole body hurt. In the morning I was taken back to the isolation cell. Then came Aleksandr Terekh (Head of the Directorate for Corrections of Karelia), Nikolai Gavrilenko and Ivan Savelyev and his retinue. Terekh said: “So what, are you still going to write and complain? You’d better understand this: they’re going to believe us more than you” at which point he tapped on his shoulder-boards. Then Savelyev led me out of the cell, took me back into the room and started hitting me over the fresh bruises. Employee Shangin was also there, but Savelyev put more effort into it, of course. Finally, he flung me on the floor, put a chair over me, spat in my face and said: “Rakhmatov lay like that too”.
Six months after Rakhmatov’s death, from 2 to 7 May 2015, the junior supervisor of the security branch, Aleksandr Antonyuk, the “punching bag”, as Tarasov called him, was convicted in court. Antonyuk got a conditional sentence of three years for, as the sentence went “with excessive zeal and far too long, clearly exceeding his duties, deliberately and with considerable force, unjustifiable in view of the circumstances, striking the convict lying on the floor no less than five times with a rubber stick on the torso, the sexual organs and feet”. The personal details of the victim have been deleted from the sentence, and there is no mention whatsoever of the fact that the convict actually died – just a dry phrase about Antonyuk “causing grievous harm by to the health of the convict”.
The “Mediazona” press service of Petrozavodsk city court replied that “no connection of cause and effect between Antonyuk’s crime and Rakhmatov’s death had been identified by the court”.
“No.9” and its chief
Petrozavodsk high-security colony No.9 is a fairly new correctional institute by Russian standards. It was built at the end of the 1980s, at the time for 300 inmates, whereas now there are 1,500. In ‘No.9’ there are prisoners who have committed serious crimes. The Fund “For the Protection of Prisoners’ Rights”, back in 2003, wrote about systemic violations of rights in the colony: there had been complaints about conditions of detention, torture and beatings. In 2012 more than 40 prisoners slit their veins at the same time –this protest was related by prisoners who had been subsequently released: the administration never made any official comment about it. The same year information appeared about a hunger-strike in IK-9 – the prisoners were complaining about the activities of the “discipline and order units” – but enlisted groups of convicts continued to exist in the colony, despite the official ban.
As from February 2019 Ivan Savelyev, a 32-year old major of the Interior Service, took over the management of the colony. He landed himself the job after graduating from the specialised Academy of Law and Management of the Federal Directorate of Corrections (FDC), and from 2014 became the deputy chief of the institution.
Former inmate of IK-9, Ruben Pogosyan (released in January 2017) recounts that Savelyev’s “crown trick” is to go right up to the prisoner and shout at him looking at him from head to toe.
“I don’t know how I stayed alive”
“I’ve been in many colonies in Karelia”, said Pogosyan, who was interned in No.9 in 2009 and 2010, after which he was transferred to IK-7 in Karelia. ‘Including in IK-7 in Segezha during the time of the infamous Sergei Kossiev — who was convicted of bribery in 2019, although he was also accused of torture. I can assure you that in comparison with Savelyev Kassiev wasn’t even what you’d call ‘cruel’. Savelyev is an animal. A pure Stalinist NKVD agent. He has been promoted for his clear sadistic tendencies. How else can he impress the management? Only by bullying the inmates. Savelyev likes beating people – I understood that talking to many comrades who were with me in No.9. He was only deputy then. They didn’t lay a finger on me in No.9 though – two lawyers helped me there. If I hadn’t had their support, I would have been beaten up after the first month”.
The editors didn’t succeed in finding out how Ivan Savelyev himself saw things: the Federal Directorate of Corrections for Karelia refused to set up an interview with the colony director.
“Things will get worse unless you stop writing complaints”
Murad Shuaibov was convicted for murdering Abdulmalik Akhmedilov, a journalist for the Daghestan newspaper “Istina” (“Truth”); he does not admit his guilt and even in the detention cell in Vladikavkaz wrote open letters and complaints. He was transferred to IK-9 on 14 March. He states that they started beating him only a week later. The IK-9 staff would beat him up putting a sack over his head, Shuaibov told his lawyer Molodyozhnikov:
“On 20 March 2016 I was beaten, doused with cold water, locked in the cold chamber, and given only water and bread. Obviously all this happened and continues to happen with the authorisation of management.” The editors have the audio recording of his conversation with the lawyer at their disposal. It was then that he tried to contact the human rights organisation “Public Verdict”. But his letter never got there. “The next day I was called to the medical unit: there the activists started some rough stuff, provoking me to retaliate. I didn’t respond, but one of the staffers, coming into the room, branded me a ringleader; after that I was put in solitary confinement. Ever since that time, even up to the present, I get threats from the colony management and in particular from the director, Savelyev: “You shouldn’t behave like that”, “Don’t stick out proud” and so on. Here, as soon as you open your mouth to answer – you get put straight in confinement”.
“They think I’ve come straight down from the hills and will obey them like a sheep!” exclaims Maya Mustafaeva indignantly. “Savelyev threatened me personally. He said my son would be worse off unless we stop writing requests. He repeated the same to him: “Don’t you feel sorry for your mother? What if something were to happen to her?”.
Maya is a short, determined woman with a resounding voice; her son is in IK-9. Mejid Mustafaev is 25 and was convicted for attempting to peddle drugs. For the last four years that Mejid has been in the colony, Maya has been waging war with the management: first with the former director Nikolai Gavrilenko and now with Ivan Savelyev. During a long visit with his mother in 2017 Mejid handed her a letter in which he described cruel beatings. He told how he had been put in wet clothing out in the frost for half a day (Maya says her son has only had one kidney from birth and also problems with his spine); how he was made to stand “stretched out” for eight hours while they beat him on the legs and body. At the same meeting Mejid pulled up his trousers to show his mother the enormous hematomas on his legs.
Maya started complaining, took it up with the human rights representative for Karelia, Aleksandr Sharapov, who came to the colony and had a talk with the director Gavrilenko. “After that Gavrilenko asked me not to make any more complaints, having promised to agree to send my son to the hospital for an examination at my expense”, said Mustafaeva. She tried for two months to get permission for that, but to no avail – Mejid never got to the hospital: “Obviously by that time all the contusion and injuries on his body had disappeared”.
About a year later Mejid ‘wasn’t hurt physically’, Maya stated, – until, in May 2019 he wrote a request to be transferred to correctional labour. The colony management didn’t like that idea.
In the beginning there were no more calls from him. Then, on the telephone, her son asked his mother to write a petition that very day to the Public Oversight Commission, to the Public Prosecution Office and the Human Rights Ombudsman. He spoke in Russian, Maya recalls, but a couple of times he uttered the word “duyullyu” – which, translated from Azerbaijani, means “they are beating me”. When his mother suggested her son complain to the new colony director Ivan Savelyev, Mejid sniggered bitterly, saying “He’s in the know about everything”.
He did not accept the request to mitigate the conditions for her son. “Seeing that Mejid could not be “broken”, he even had him transferred to the section for the “offended” – in May this year. They said they would deal with him in the same way. Or they were hoping that he would do something to himself”, said Mustafaeva.
Trying to get through to see her son in the colony, she was received by Savelyev and his deputies and then finally got to see him. Mejid looked tired, and didn’t reveal any details, fearing that they would be overheard.
“Mejid told me: “Mum, they’re all people, I don’t care who is offended and who isn’t”, Maya said. He just wants to be left alone, that they shouldn’t touch him. He wants to continue his studies and work in the colony’s car repair shop and then get released and study law”. The court rejected his request for mitigated conditions.
Mustafaev lived for two months with the “offended”. Through the Public Oversight Commission he nevertheless managed to get separated from them. A check showed that “physical force had not been applied” in Mejid’s case but the POC representatives in Karelia informed that the prisoner had “been given the relevant explanations with regard to legislation in force”.
Maya Mustafaeva believes that in May 2019 the colony’s administration, when she was sending petitions to the POC and the Public Prosecution Office, was trying to “put the frighteners” on her. On one occasion she left the colony and walked along the side of the road when all of a sudden she was overtaken by a black four-wheel drive; it drove past her a couple of meters and then did a U-turn and made a full tilt before her. Maya, ready to dive into the ditch at any moment, froze; only a matter of meters in front of her, the four-wheel-drive quickly turned round and drove off, leaving a cloud of dust behind it. Mustafaeva did not know the man behind the wheel.
“I had to write to Ramzan Kadyrov”
Anzor Gubashev, one of the five convicted for the murder of Boris Nemtsov, is serving a sentence in IK-9 upwards of 18 years. He told his lawyer, Viktor Molodyozhnikov, on a recording, that he was being poisoned on religious grounds: on 11 July 2019 during a technical examination of his cell, the cover of his Koran was torn and his personal towel was thrown to the ground. In addition, he was regularly disturbed while performing Namaz – even in what was officially free time.
“The time for Namaz doesn’t correspond to the timetable here”, says Gubashov on the audio recording. “I can’t pray at 7am or at 10.40 or at 10.00 in the evening. And I can’t pray either in what is free time according to the rules of the colony”.
The rules of the internal timetable instruct prisoners to get up when a colony employee comes in their cell. But the rules of Islam say that it is a sin to interrupt Namaz.
“If the worshipper interrupts Namaz, that means that he considers the person interrupting him to be more important than Allah”, Gubashov explains. He does not get up when employees appear, and for that infringement he has already received a week in confinement, and then two weeks more for celebrating Namaz at night.
The lawyer Molodyozhnikov also told us about yet another form of punishment – three months in an ‘EPKT’ – a strict high- security isolation cell – that Gubashov got when he misheard the command to get ready for bed and lay down five minutes before the lockdown call. The defense considered that all three forms of punishment were incommensurate, and called the attitude of the colony administration to its inmates “inhumane”.
“So there was no apology for the torn Koran. Gubashov’s wife was forced to write to Ramzan Kadyrov, and we are still waiting for a reply. Freedom of belief is not easy in Russia – it must be observed though, but the administration of IK-9 is a law unto itself. Irrespective of the fact that Gubashov was convicted under a serious article of law, the aim of the prison system is correction. How can we talk about correction when there is this type of attitude?”.
“The investigation did not establish a single case of beating”
“We had a talk with Gubashov, he broke into a smile and asked us: “Thank you, when are you coming again?”. In conflict situations we talk with the convicts and the management of the colony, trying to analyse the situation based on our life experience and knowledge. We ask everybody to observe the internal prison rules and the legislation of the Russian Federation”, says Grigorii Aleshko, the chairman of the Public Oversight Commission of Karelia, talking about his work. He says that the POC does everything it can and tries to help “if only with a kind word”:
“We even have the practice whereby the administration of a colony calls us and asks us to come to see such and such a convict. I don’t think that means that they don’t fear us, no. Relatives and lawyers also contact us. How would I characterise the head of the colony, Ivan Savelyev? Young, energetic, demanding. But it wouldn’t really be right to assess his professional qualities. Too harsh? I don’t think so. How can you be the director of a colony and be at the same time easy-going? Questions are asked of course. But they are asked in civvy-street as well”.
The lawyer Molodyozhnikov says they don’t even speak personally with the prisoners when they get complaints: “My clients and I periodically send requests to both the Head of the Directorate for Corrections of Karelia, Aleksandr Terekh and the Supervisory Prosecutor, Aleksandr Kytkov. The answers are almost always along the lines of: “We have verified, everything is normal”. Can it really be the case that the supervisory bodies believe that everything in IK-9 is fine? In my book that’s simply called passivity”.
The Deputy Prosecutor of Karelia, Vyacheslav Pobedinsky, thinks it’s called something else: it’s simply that the prisoners are not speaking the truth. “When a convict makes out a complaint about beating, we forward it to the Investigation Committee for them to follow through with checks for any signs of the crime”, Pobedinsky explains. “The convicts who made submissions about physical violence were checked out by the IC. And yes, official decisions were made. Were these decisions ever in favour of the convicts? No, all of them were rejections of requests to file criminal suits – the inquiry never established any cases of beating.”.
“It’s not exactly as if you are poor”
The former deputy of the People’s Assembly of Daghestan, Mahomed Magomedov, says that in the beginning, Ivan Savelyev tried to cooperate with him. When Magomedov who was convicted for extortion and fraud in July 2015 arrived in IK-9, Savelyev was deputy chief.
“He wanted me to denounce other convicts using incitement and all kinds of provocation”, the ex-deputy told the lawyer Molodyozhnikov (the editors have the audio of the conversation in question at their disposal) –“I refused, stating that I wished to serve my sentence quietly and not get involved in anything. Ever since then the pressure on me has increased. The point being that a system of “activists” has been built up inside the colony: orderlies, stewards and so on. These are convicts who work for the colony’s administration and who instruct us other convicts when to eat, what to do, when to sleep, when to get up and they also put their noses in our private things… Obviously this contradicts the internal prison rules and the Criminal code. But in IK-9, frankly speaking, they’re far from any law anyway, they’ve never heard of it. I say that in all earnestness”.
According to Magomedov, the management of IK-9 ‘sniffs out’ each convict to find out how much each newcomer is worth. If he has money, that begins a process of extortion: “The ‘activists’ immediately started demanding money from me – supposedly for repair works in the colony. They told me that in the colony you could buy anything: for 15,000, for example, you could get a commendation for applying to the administration”. Magomedov was placed in the confinement cell (he had supposedly behaved rudely), but when the lawyers put in a complaint, the management of the colony summoned the ex-senator for a chat: “They promised that it wouldn’t happen again provided I withdrew my application”.
The management of IK-9 ‘sniffs out’ each convict to find out how much each newcomer is worth
Magomedov agreed and, as he himself admits, “had a quiet life for a couple of years”. He agreed to buy a fridge, bench and table for the detachment. “In the “invalid” detachment where I was quartered, everything was bought with my money – the convicts know that and we also have witnesses of money transfers supposedly from charity”, said the ex-deputy.
Magomedov started having problems again only when Savelyev became the director of the colony in 2019. The prisoner refused to do the job of cleaner, alleging illness, and he was subsequently put in solitary confinement. Although the prosecution did not find any wrongdoing on the part of the colony, the city court did – and Magomedov was released from punitive confinement but was not returned to the detachment.
“I was transferred to the SUON detachment (detachment in a colony with strict conditions of serving a sentence) and I’ve been here now for a year”, Magomedov said. The prisoner also said that none of his multiple complaints to the Prosecutor and the Directorate of Corrections has been answered: “But in court the lawyers and I win one case after another”.
“He didn’t even know how to turn off the machine”
In the course of one of the ex-deputy’s lawsuits with IK-9, it emerged that there were infringements in the contracts for the repair of the buildings. They were built 40 years ago and are now in a state of dangerous disrepair. The Federal Directorate for Corrections in Karelia had agreed a contract with itself for the repair of the roofs and a heavy load-bearing double-pitched roof with was to be built by non-professional prisoners, said Magomedov.
The IK-9 prisoners make wooden and metal products, bake bread, dress stone, make lighting appliances, souvenirs and repair transport vehicles. Ilya Shabanov’s mother, Svetlana (the prisoner’s and his mother’s names have been changed), told how they also tried to go in for producing toilet paper, until an accident happened at the colony. In No.9 Shabanov lost four fingers while working at the paper-rolling machine. For some years now his mother has been trying to penalise the colony for her son having become a cripple.
It happened on 22 July 2016 when Ilya Shabanov was 19. He wrote an application to work as a furniture fitter, Svetlana says. The young man in question was near-sighted and had never worked before. But despite Shabanov’s request, he was set to work a machine-tool producing toilet paper and was told how to insert and adjust the paper roll.
Svetlana Shabanova is now trying to prove that her son was not given any safety instructions and that the colony inmates have given false testimonies
On the day of the accident, Ilya was left by the machine on his own: all the other workers on the shop-floor, including the prisoner-foreman (in the documents he appears as an auxiliary worker) had left for the roll-call. When the paper started to tear, the young new recruit, frightened by his responsibility for the material loss, started to adjust it with his hands – he had seen how his foreman had done it before, as he would say later. Shabanov’s left hand was sucked into the machine.
“He didn’t even know how to turn off the machine – that’s the level of health and safety there”, says Svetlana. Only a couple of minutes later Ilya noticed one of the other convicts. The machine didn’t turn off straight away… And then they drove my almost lifeless son to the medical unit and then to the hospital where they amputated his four fingers”.
It was impossible to get any proper treatment in that FDC RB-2 prison hospital, says Ahmed Umarov, yet another client of Molodyozhnikov: “I had a hemorrhage from my back passage, half of my head went numb, then my back hurt, my kidneys, legs and I couldn’t hear in one ear… They took me from the colony to the RB-2 medical facility where all they did was to confirm my own diagnosis – and then sent me back to the colony. I have an official document from a neurologist with all the recommendations necessary for my illness – but here in IK-9 they can’t fulfil them. They are killing me bit by bit every day”.
Svetlana Shabanova is now trying to prove that her son was not given any safety instructions and that the colony inmates have given false testimony. After what happened to Ilya, a criminal case was filed and an expert evaluation was set up which was carried out in February this year by the Criminal Expert Centre of the Russian Ministry for the Interior. It revealed that although Shabanov had signed off on the initial training logbook, the signatures on the safety instructions and the special work assessment card are not his. Despite this, the criminal case was dropped and Svetlana is now trying to get the ruling overturned.
In the meantime, Ilya Shabanov is being bullied back in the colony for complaining; he has told his mother about it and is writing to the Public Prosecutor. “He had no choice”
On 26 August 2019 the lawyer Viktor Molodyozhnikov recorded on dictaphone the testimony of Sergei Tarasov, who told him about a murder committed in the colony, and two days later he heard the witness of ex-deputy Magamedov, Anzor Gubashov and other prisoners. A couple of days after the meeting with the lawyer, Magomed Magomedov retracted part of what he had said (this is not included in the text).
The lawyer submitted the statements made by prisoners Magomedov, Umarov, Gubashov, Shuaibov and Tarasov to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Karelia (ICRK), as well as to the Karelian Office of Public Prosecution, the FSB, the FDC and to State Duma deputy Gadjimurat Omarov. The latter submitted parliamentary requests to the senior officials of the security bodies about what happened in IK-9. Molodyozhnikov said that he had already received a reply from the ICRK which stated that the Petrozavodsk investigation department had begun a check.
But on 29 August prisoner Sergei Tarasov went missing. Two days later, the administration of the colony informed that he had been sent to the RB-2 medical facility, or, as they refer to it in the colony, to the “local”. The prisoners say it’s the place they send you to recover from beatings. Lawyer Molodyozhnikov is not allowed access to Tarasov; they state that he has refused his services.
Ex IK-9 prisoner Ruben Pogosyan, who spoke to Tarasov on the phone, later confirmed that this was so, that the prisoner had refused the services of his defense lawyer. When Pogosyan asked him about his reasons for this, Tarasov replied that “he had no choice”. That said, the lawyer has not been shown any written rejection – and they have to be in writing by law.
A week after Tarasov’s disappearance, on 7 September 2019, 30-year old Bakhodur Kushmurodov committed suicide in the car repair shop. His relatives said he had less than two months to serve until he got his conditional release papers. In July he had called his family and asked them to prepare the standard package of documents: about the death of his parents, the fact that he had two children, his references from his place of work in Uzbekistan. By the end of August he had already received the documents. Whether he had managed to submit the release request or whether it was examined, is not known.
A week before his death Bakhodur called his aunt Dilorom Karimova in St. Petersburg. “He would usually ring me every Sunday”, she said, weeping. “He was a good nephew, considerate. The last time he rang me, he told me he would be released at the end of October. He was upbeat and said he was missing his wife and children who live in Uzbekistan. Once out of prison, he was planning to start up his own business repairing cars. But then on that Sunday, instead of being phoned by him, I was phoned by an orderly. He asked me whether I was Bakhodur’s aunt. Then he said: “Bakhodur is no more. He died. Come to the colony”.
Less than a day later Dilorom and Usman Tashmuratov, a cousin of the deceased, arrived in Petrozavodsk. “[The employees] said themselves they did not understand why he had done it”, said Usman. Supposedly there are no cameras in the place he died. Consequently, none of his relatives believe that he could have committed suicide. What would you serve five years in a colony for only to kill yourself two months before release? All the more so, because only recently he said “I have an entire life ahead of me”.
Uchkun Elmurzaev was released from IK-9 in 2017. He knew Bakhodur and had worked with him: “You know, in that repair shop there’s not a single corner without a camera. And anyway, there are always other convict-workers around, either the brigade chief, head of shift or works foreman… How could he have been left there alone? I was in that colony for nine years and can’t believe that story they spun his relatives”.
This publication was prepared jointly by the editors of Mediazona and Current Time TV
Editors: Yegor Skovoroda (Mediazona), Elena Shmarayeva (Current Time TV).