Amnesty International Report Russian Federation 1999




At least one prisoner of conscience, a conscientious objector, was held. Torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers and within the armed forces continued. Conditions in penitentia- ries and pre-trial detention centres amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. One possible extrajudicial execution was reported. About 900 prisoners remained under sentence of death. Legal provisions for asylum-seekers remained inadequate. In the Chechen Republic (Chechnya), at least one person was executed and up to 30 people faced imminent execution.
President Boris Yeltsin dismissed Prime Minister Viktor Cherno- myrdin and his cabinet in March. The President's nominee for Prime Minister, Sergey Kirienko, was approved by parliament in April and formed a new cabinet. In August a financial crisis brought another change in government and Victor Chernomyrdin became Acting Prime Minister. A new Prime Minister, Evgeny Primakov, was appointed and a new government formed in September. In October President Aslan Maskhadov dismissed the entire government of the Chechen Republic. A new government was approved in December and the parliament was suspended by the Supreme Shari'a Court, which ruled that it contravened Islamic law.

A presidential order issued in April outlined government underta- kings for 1998 -proclaimed by President Yeltsin as 'the year of human rights in the Russian Federation'. The order included a list of federal laws concerning human rights, among them the law on alternative civilian service and the Code on Criminal Procedure, which were to be adopted. It also contained a list of international standards that were to be ratified. However, there was no reference to ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, or of Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights) concerning the abolition of the death penalty.
In May the Russian Federation ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In August the government pledged to abolish the death penalty by April 1999, although senior officials later spoke in favour of capital punishment. In September the Ministry of Justice took over the penitentiary system from the Interior Ministry; the transfer was one of the Russian Federation's commitments when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996.
By the end of 1998 no law introducing alternative civilian service had been adopted. Furthermore, under the 1997 law on freedom of conscience and religion, young men who claimed conscientious objection to military service based on their religious beliefs were often not considered as legitimate conscientious objectors by the courts.
One prisoner of conscience, Vitaliy Gushchin, a Jehovah's Witness from Kurchatovo, Kursk Region, was released in July pending further investigation of his case. He had served eight months of an 18-month prison sentence for refusing to carry out military service because of his religious beliefs. The Kursk Regional Court had ruled in December 1997 that Vitaliy Gushchin was a member of a 'sect' and that his claims to religious beliefs were 'groundless'. Two other conscientious objectors, Vasiliy Bazhenov and Vsevolod Sukhanov, were awaiting trial.
Other prisoners of conscience continued to be detained pending trial. Oleg Pazyura, a human rights defender and retired naval officer arrested in 1997 and charged with 'slander of a person or a public official' and 'a threat or violent actions against a procurator, investigator, interrogator or other officials' (see Amnesty International Report 1998), was convicted in January, but immediately released under an amnesty.
Aleksandr Nikitin, a former prisoner of conscience, appeared before St Petersburg City Court in October on charges of treason and exposing state secrets (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998). After two weeks of hearings, the Court referred the case back to the Office of the Procurator for additional investigation. Aleksandr Nikitin continued to be under orders not to leave the city.

Torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers, including cases from previous years, were reported. In February the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mordovia convicted seven police officers of torturing criminal suspects and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from three to nine and a half years. The case was brought after a series of incidents, including the death in 1995 of Oleg Igonin, who was arrested on suspicion of burglary and tortured by several police officers. He was asphyxiated when officers put a gas mask on him and cut off the air supply, a method known as 'elephant' torture.
Mikhail Yurochko, who was arrested in 1993 in Arkhangelsk and charged with murder, had reportedly been tortured and ill-treated in order to extract a confession. He had only been allowed to see his lawyer three weeks after arrest. He was reported to have been severely beaten and deprived of food, raped by cell mates with the complicity of the prison authorities, and told that he would be driven to suicide. Two co-defendants, Yevgeny Mednikov and Dmitry Elsakov, alleged they were similarly tortured. Although all three reportedly had alibis, Mikhail Yurochko and Yevgeny Mednikov were sentenced to death. Dmitry Elsakov was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. In 1995 the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation overturned the death sentences and sent back the case to the court of first instance for additional investiga- tion. Mikhail Yurochko and Dmitry Elsakov were released in July when the legal terms of their pre-trial detention expired; Yevgeny Mednikov remained in prison for a separate conviction. In December the investigation concluded. However, the case had not been sent to court by the end of the year because the Office of the Procurator General intervened and decided to review the case because the confessions had allegedly been extracted under torture and to consider transferring the investigation to another regional procurator.

In December 1997 Larisa Kharchenko was released from pre-trial detention where she had been held incommunicado and reportedly denied medical treatment (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Reports of torture in the armed forces continued to be received. In May it was reported that a young soldier serving in the Russian army, stationed in the town of Budyonnovsk, Stavropol Territory, had been beaten to death by an older soldier for refusing to mend his shoe. He was reportedly the 14th soldier killed by dedovshchina (the practice of bullying and humiliating new recruits) in the 205th Brigade in 18 months. During this period over 350 soldiers reportedly complained of torture and ill-treatment to the Budyonnovsk and Stavropol committees of Soldiers' Mothers. In October the Office of the Procurator General stated that it was concerned about the abuses. No investigation was known to have been set up into the allegations of torture.

Viktor Fyodorovich Andreyev remained in a pre-trial detention centre in Moscow where, according to his lawyer, he was delibera- tely denied medical treatment despite being near death from tuberculosis. He had been arrested in 1995, while serving in the Russian army in Chechnya, for the murder of his commanding officer, who had allegedly tortured him and other conscripts. According to his lawyer, the military justice authorities wanted to avoid bringing the case to court to avert a precedent-setting verdict of manslaughter in self-defence, rather than murder. In September the Chief Military Procurator stated that 25 investigations into compliance with legislation aimed at protecting servicemen since August 1997 had revealed 605 crimes, of which 270 qualified as dedovshchina.

Conditions in penitentiaries and pre-trial detention centres that hold up to a million people continued to amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prisons were grossly overcrowded. Thousands of detainees had to sleep in shifts, often without bedding. Many cells were filthy and pest-ridden, with inadequate light and ventilation. Food and medical supplies were frequently inadequate. Diseases and mental illness were widespread. A new amnesty law for detainees announced in October, reportedly aimed at easing overcrowding, was expected to lead to the release of up to 115,000 people from pre-trial detention centres. Under the December 1997 amnesty law, only 14,290 people were released, according to official figures, even though the law applied to at least 267,000 people.

One possible extrajudicial execution was reported. The body of Larisa Yudina, a journalist and editor of the opposition newspaper Sovetskaya Kalmykia in the Republic of Kalmykia, was found in June in a pond near the city of Elista with a fractured skull and multiple stab wounds. She had been repeatedly warned to stop her critical reporting on Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, whom she accused of corruption. On the night she was killed, a man reportedly telephoned her, offering documents relating to her investigation of corruption. She reportedly went to meet the man and never returned. A criminal investigation into her killing was opened and three men were reportedly detained as suspects.
Galina Starovoitova, a member of parliament and co-Chairperson of the Democratic Russia Party, was killed in St Petersburg in November. She was an outspoken critic of corruption among the political elite, an opponent of the communists and nationalists in parliament, and an active human rights defender. According to police, a man and a woman shot Galina Starovoitova and one of her aides, Ruslan Linkov, in the stairwell of her apartment. Galina Starovoitova died instantly; her aide suffered serious head wounds. Two days before her murder, eight officers of the Russian Federal Security Services (fsb) alleged at a press conference that the fsb had been involved in extortion, terrorism, hosta- ge-taking and contract killing.

In April the government stated that 894 prisoners remained under sentence of death. However, in October the Minister of Justice said the figure was 839. No executions had been reported since August 1996. One execution was reported in Chechnya in 1998 (see below).
Legal provisions for asylum-seekers remained inadequate. Many people remained at risk of return to countries where they would be in danger of human rights violations. Guram Absandze, Minister of Finance in the Georgian government of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Vice-President of the 'Georgian Government in Exile', was arrested in the Russian Federation in March, allegedly at the request of the Georgian authorities. He was forcibly returned to Georgia later that month and was immediately detained pending trial. It was feared that he might be ill-trea- ted.
In February the Russian Constitutional Court ruled again to abolish the need for residence permits, known as the propiska system. The government at federal and local level had failed to inform law enforcement officials that the system was abolished, or that federal laws and the Constitution overrode local regulations. People continued to be detained by police for not having a permit, particularly people from ethnic minorities. In the Chechen Republic, at least one person was executed and up to 30 others were facing imminent execution. Salan Bakharchiyev was sentenced to death by the Chechen Supreme Shari'a Court for murder. He was executed in June. Assa Larsanova again faced imminent execution after giving birth in prison in Grozny, the capital (see Amnesty International Report 1998). In June the scope of the death penalty in Chechnya was widened to include blood feud murders.

Continuing abductions of journalists, media employees, humanita- rian aid workers and Russian political representatives in Chechnya led to questions about the ability of both the Russian and Chechen authorities to guarantee the safety of civilians and to allegations of acquiescence by Chechen officials in such abuses. Among those taken hostage were Valentin Vlasov, the Russian President's plenipotentiary representative in Chechnya, who was abducted in May and released in November. In October the body of Akmal Saidov, a departmental head at the Russian Federation mission in Chechnya, was found near the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia a few days after he was kidnapped. A note attached to the body was allegedly signed 'the wolves of Islam'. In October, three United Kingdom nationals and one New Zealander working in Chechnya were abducted in Grozny; their bodies were recovered in December. The Chechen government responded by introducing a state of emergency and initiating a crack-down on crime. In December French aid worker Vincent Cochetel, who had been kidnapped in January, was released.

Amnesty International continued to urge the authorities to release prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, and to enact legislation creating alternative civilian service of non-punitive length.
In May an Amnesty International delegation visited the Russian Federation and met official bodies, victims of human rights abuses, human rights defenders, and women's groups. Amnesty International urged the government to introduce an effective system of independent inspections and public control of all places of detention. Amnesty International's delegation was refused access to pre-trial detention centres.
In response to the authorities' invitation to contribute to the drafting of a federal program for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Amnesty International presented a Working Document setting out 51 recommendations to improve human rights protection in line with international standards. Senior officials responded, stating that lack of financial resources, the transition to the market economy and the high level of crime were the main obstacles to adequate protection of human rights. In June Amnesty International received assurances from the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs that all steps would be taken to stop torture and ill-treatment of suspects in custody by law enforcement officials and that all such allegations would be promptly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. In March Amnesty International urged Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to grant clemency to all prisoners under sentence of death. The organization also called for revision of the provisi- ons of the Chechen Shari'a Criminal Code, which provide for the death penalty and corporal punishments, with a view to abolishing the death penalty and all acts which constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.