Yevgeny Makarov, a Russian prisoner allegedly tortured by guards in a case which has highlighted abuse in the country’s jails, has been released.
The young man was hugged by his mother upon his release — but his lawyer says his life may still be in danger.
There was outrage in the summer when a video showing a prisoner being beaten and tortured for several minutes, was published by an independent newspaper.
It’s led to several arrests and suspensions, but questions about violence in Russia’s penitentiary system remain.
Who is Makarov and what happened to him?
Yevgeny Makarov was convicted of grievous bodily harm and extortion under the Russian criminal code, and sentenced to six years and 10 months in jail.
The beating reportedly took place in June at Penitentiary No 1, a prison colony in the Yaroslavl region around 270 kilometres northeast of Moscow. The video was first published by Novaya Gazeta in July. The newspaper said it was “only for those with strong nerves”.
Several Russian guards are seen beating their prisoner on the soles of his feet with rubber truncheons and occasionally their fists. At one stage they appear to use a waterboarding technique.
There are at least a dozen men in the room, some awaiting their turn to deliver blows. The prisoner, stripped and in handcuffs, screams and begs for mercy. The video is turned off after 10 minutes but the torture is said to have continued.
How did the video see the light of day?
It’s not known who shot the video, said to have been filmed from a body-mounted camera. It was given to Novaya Gazeta by a lawyer for the non-governmental organisation Public Verdict, Irina Biryukova, who represents Makarov.
She saw her client in prison – after initially being denied access – and says he had been badly beaten and could hardly walk. The lawyer claims it was the second time Makarov had been beaten.
Biryukova has since fled Russia with her family, saying she had received death threats.
What are the implications of Makarov’s case?
After the video was released, a criminal investigation was launched by the Russian State Penitentiary Service and the Yaroslavl State Investigative Committee. Fourteen prison officers have been arrested.
The case brought a torrent of new accusations of similar abuse at the same colony. The complaints have put the spotlight on Russia’s penal system, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Among G20 countries it is second to the United States.
Prisoners are often sent to remote colonies where conditions are described as harsh. Hunger strikes and cases of self-harm have been reported. Makarov’s lawyer argues that in some Russian regions, abuse remains covered up.
What happens now?
The website Crime Russia — which works to expose corruption and crime in Russia from its base abroad — reports that Makarov has been granted state protection and that he and other prisoners are officially recognised as victims.
However, his lawyer told Euronews’ Moscow correspondent Galina Polonskaya that it could be years before investigations into events at Yaroslavl are complete and trials are brought.
Biryukova says Makarov wants to see his torturers brought to justice. But she also fears that the ordeal for her client — who she calls Zhenya, a nickname for Yevgeny — is not over.
“His life and his health are in danger right now. Because even though the prison guards are now under arrest, they have relatives and friends and colleagues who still work there,” Biryukova said.
“Although the situation is that criminal charges towards the guards were impossible to drop, and the investigation will go on, and we do hope that they will be convicted, I think that someone could approach Zhenya, try to intimidate him, to threaten him, so he does not insist on harsh punishment for these guards.”