Despite widespread impunity for perpetrators of torture in Russia, local IRCT member Committee for prevention of Torture (CPT) has helped hundreds of torture survivors seek justice. Since 2000, the centre has worked on more than 120 cases of mistreatment, and its investigations have led to the annulment of nearly 700 unlawful decisions and the convictions of over 100 law enforcement officials. As the stories of Aleksey Soukhov, Oleg Elchaninov and Oleg Krayushkin illustrate, for some of the victims that CPT supports, the fight for justice can take years, with no guarantee that the perpetrators will ever be convicted of their crimes.
“They told me they were going to bury me.” The story of Aleksey Soukhov
On 29 August 2011, 35-year-old Aleksey Soukhov was walking home, when two men in civilian clothes grabbed him and started to hit him.
“They put some grass in my pocket. I wanted to see what it was, but they hit me immediately. Then they took me to the cemetery and told me they were going to bury me. Afterwards they brought me to the police department. I asked them to call an ambulance, but they never did. They caused serious damage to my head.”
It turned out that not far from where the police had accosted Aleksey, there was an illegal marijuana farm and, as a neighbour later told the court, the police officers regularly set up an ambush there. The neighbour had seen the police officers beat up Aleksey and then go to pick up some marijuana, likely to put in the detainee's pocket.
As a result of the attack, Aleksey suffered a number of injuries including cerebral concussion and hematomas of soft tissues.
Despite this, Aleksey was charged with storing narcotic substances. He and Konstantin Sinyagin were sentenced to three and a half years in a corrective labour colony [a common type of prison in Russia and some post-Soviet states, which combines penal detention with forced labour].
Today, Aleksey's eye is seriously damaged and he has continuous headaches and palpitations. CPT continues to litigate his case on a national level.
“They were doing everything to make me confess.” The story of Oleg Elchaninov
On 2 December 2006, 48-year old Oleg and his friend Motkov were accused of raping a young woman they had been drinking with. They were forced to sign a full confession at the local police department.
“They made me sit on a chair with a high back and handcuffed me so my hands were behind the back of the chair. They then took a baseball bat and started to hit me on the parts of my body, which were covered by clothes. They beat me up and put a plastic bag over my head to choke me. Mikhaylenko [a police officer] made sure to hold on to the handcuffs so I didn't fall from the beating,” says Oleg.
As a result of the beating, Oleg ended up with a hematoma on his head, leading to swelling and bruising.
“They were doing everything to make me confess. When they removed the plastic bag from my head, Makarov [another police officer] used a wide belt to hit my head in such a way that my skin was pulled from my skull. At one point I realised that they were hitting the hair area so I didn’t end up with bruises on my face, and I raised my head so they hit my eyebrow.”
Oleg’s white shirt was covered in blood. “They said ‘look, he ruined his face’. Makarov said ‘no big deal. Now we'll break his nose and then say that he fell down the stairs.’ They pulled me up and he [Makarov] put one of his hands next to my shoulder bone, while he used the other hand to grab my head and hit it against the table. However, I managed to turn my head and instead of hitting my nose, they hit my eyebrows again. This time, the other eyebrow started to bleed.”
Oleg fell on the floor and they started to hit and kick him. He started to shout and the head of the department came running, telling them to stop as they already had all the evidence they needed.
As a result of the torture, Oleg was left with several injuries including wounds around the eyebrows, extravasations on the chest, right shoulder, right cheek, both thighs, right buttock, around both eyes, as well as bruising of the left eye socket and bruises around the left eyelid.
Oleg believes the whole situation was a set-up by the woman to gain possession of his apartment. After the arrest he was told to sign a letter of attorney for re-legalisation of the real property. According to him, no expert examinations were conducted with regard to the case. The court sentenced him and Motkov to seven years in prison, based exclusively on the words of the alleged victim.
Oleg has never been questioned about what happened to him and the physical injuries registered by doctors and the court. Refusals to initiate criminal proceedings in cases like this are issued on a regular basis in Russia. CPT took the case to the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 and a decision is expected next year. Meanwhile, the centre continues to provide rehabilitation to Oleg.
Oleg, who used to be a single father before the arrest, lost his parental rights. His son is in an orphanage, where Oleg is not allowed to meet with him and his son does not receive his letters either. He is still under administrative supervision, which he is trying to appeal against in court.
Speaking about the police, Oleg says: “They come to me, they check on me. Already after the European Court communicated the complaint, when Russia assumed the obligation to ensure my security, the police officers squeezed my nose to make a so-called "plum" out of it. Just like that, in a most gross-out way. They said — "Ah! That's the one who wrote to Strasbourg, a supervisory person" — and they made a "plum" out of my nose.”
“Sometimes I meet the very same police officers. Then I'm shaking inside.” The story of Oleg Krayushkin
On 20 September 2012, the police in Nizhny Novgorod accused Oleg of stealing a power saw.
“The police officers came to me, took me to the department and claimed that my saw was a stolen one. I bought it second hand — and they claimed that I stole it.”
They police interrogated Oleg for a whole day before he was taken to another department in the evening. Here he was tortured for three hours.
“These three hours involved many things, including rape threats. I was also handcuffed and they hit my feet, soles and heels with rubber truncheons. Two of the officers held me while the third one was hitting me. Then I was put in the investigative cell, where my injuries were examined. A report was written and an ambulance was called.”
The criminal case against Krayushkin, who spent two months confined to his flat, was closed. The men who had stolen the power saw were apprehended and brought to justice. Oleg filed a lawsuit claiming compensation for illegal prosecution; however, the case has been opened and closed several times, preventing his vindication. The criminal case against the police officers who hit Krayushkin's heels with rubber truncheons only started in 2013. Since then the investigation has been put on hold seven times already and no one has been found guilty or sentenced.
Speaking of the police, Oleg says his attitude has changed significantly: “Now I'm regarding them a little bit differently because no truth can be found here. This situation is like a vicious circle. Here are the police officers, here is the Investigative Committee, which is involved in the investigation of their crimes, but no truth is to be found. In general, I understand now that there are many people in our country who have been wrongly sentenced. Because at least half of the people would confess to committing the crime had they experienced what I had to experience.
Oleg applied to the CPT for legal assistance. Earlier this year, CPT lawyers filed a complaint about the systematic non-performance and procedural violations of the investigators and superiors of the Investigative Department. The case is still pending.
Speaking about what it feels like to meet the perpetrating officers on the street, Oleg says: “Sometimes I meet the very same police officers. Then I'm shaking inside. But they try to avert their eyes and each time they see me they cross the road.”
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About Committee for prevention of Torture (CPT)
IRCT member in Russia, Committee for prevention of torture (CPT) was founded in 2000 by a group of prominent human rights defenders to investigate allegations of torture by state agents, provide torture victims with medical and psychological support and not least help survivors seek justice by representing them in court. Since then, the non-governmental organisation has worked on more than 120 cases of mistreatment, and its investigations have led to the annulment of nearly 700 unlawful decisions and the convictions of over 100 law enforcement officials.