Systematic torture and rape apparently took place in the Saratov prison hospital
Photo: Filipp Kochetkov / ITAR-TASS / IMAGO
In October 2021, videos leaked from Russian prisons apparently showing inmates being tortured and raped.
The BBC has now spoken to several ex-prisoners about how they have been systematically tortured in the various facilities.
A former prisoner, Alexei Makarov, told the BBC he was twice tortured and raped in Saratov Prison Hospital in order to extract a confession.
“They beat me for ten minutes, tore my clothes.
And for, say, the next two hours, they raped me with broomsticks every two minutes,” reports Makarov of the first incident.
If he passed out, they would pour cold water on him and carry on.
According to Makarov, the detainees are being told that if they don't comply, the video footage of the torture can be made available to the entire prison.
Other victims and experts said the report said the abuses are always sanctioned by prison authorities and are used to blackmail, intimidate or extract confessions from inmates.
Rapists apparently mostly other prisoners
The anti-torture organization Gulagu.net published the videos last October.
They come from Sergei Savelyev, who was imprisoned in the prison in Saratov.
During his seven and a half year sentence for drug trafficking, he had worked as an IT maintenance clerk.
This gave him access to the prison's internal server and to the servers of other prisons.
Savelyev saved some torture videos on a USB stick, which he hid near the prison exit.
The BBC also spoke to Savelyev.
The rapists are therefore usually other prisoners who would act on the orders of the prison authorities.
As a rule, these are men with long-standing sentences who, as a result, receive better treatment and small favours.
BBC evaluated thousands of court documents
After the publication, the Kremlin promised to investigate the abuse.
Six suspected rapists, the director of the Saratov prison hospital and his deputy were arrested - all denying any connection to the abuse depicted in the videos.
Torture was reported in 90 percent of Russian regions between 2015 and 2019, according to the independent Russian media project Proekt.
The BBC says it has analyzed thousands of court documents from the period and found that 41 prison staff have been convicted in the most serious cases of prisoner abuse.
However, almost half of them were only sentenced to suspended sentences.
In July a law was amended in Russia to introduce severe penalties for the use of torture to abuse power or gather evidence.
However, human rights activists emphasize that torture as a crime in its own right is still not a criminal offence.
The Russian prison authorities did not comment on the allegations.