Russian Lawyer Who Provided Prison-Beating Video Flees, Seeks State Protection

A lawyer who gave a Russian newspaper a video showing the brutal beating of a prison inmate has fled the country while seeking protection from state law enforcement authorities.

The Public Verdict Foundation said on July 23 that Irina Biryukova, who is a lawyer with the NGO, left the country the day the video was published by the independent Novaya Gazeta last week.

Biryukova has sent a letter to the head of the federal Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, urging the Russian authorities to provide security to provide for her safety and that of her family, Public Verdict said on Facebook.

Amnesty International has also urged Russian authorities to "immediately protect" Biryukova.

The 10-minute video, posted online by Novaya Gazeta on July 20, has shocked viewers inside and outside Russia and deepened concerns about allegations of torture in the country's jails, prisons, and police precincts.

The video, which Public Verdict said was shot at Corrective Colony No. 1 in the Yaroslavl region, northeast of Moscow, shows a prisoner identified as Yevgeny Makarov lying on a desk without pants while two people in uniform forcibly hold his hands up behind his back. At least 10 other uniformed men methodically hit the man's legs and heels with rubber truncheons and fists, while he cries and begs them to stop beating him.

"Irina Biryukova's brave decision to expose the appalling abuse within IK-1 penal colony is the latest example of her dedication to protecting others from torture and other ill-treatment. It is alarming that her act of courage has forced her to flee the country in fear," Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a July 23 statement.

The Investigative Committee said on July 23 that all the officers who took part in the beating have been identified and six of them have been detained. Yaroslavl regional ombudsman Sergei Baburkin said on July 22 that 17 FSIN officers had been suspended over the video.

Amnesty said in its statement that Biryukova and Makarov's protection "must be a priority for the Russian authorities" and called for "an independent and impartial" investigation into the threats against the lawyer and the allegations of torture against Makarov.

Novaya Gazeta said that the video was shot in June 2017.

Reports of systemic torture in the Yaroslavl facility, and in Russian prisons generally, have circulated for some time.

In April 2017, Public Verdict said that Makarov and two other inmates at the Yaroslavl prison -- Ruslan Vakhapov, and Ivan Nepomnyashchikh -- had been tortured by guards there.

Nepomnyashchikh, who was imprisoned following clashes at a protest on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration in 2012, served his 30-month term at the Yaroslavl prison.

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to thoroughly investigate the allegations, but a court in Yaroslavl ruled that investigations were not necessary, citing a purported lack of evidence.

"We remain extremely concerned for the safety of Yevgeny Makarov and the thousands of others detained in Russian pre-trial detention centres, penal colonies and police stations where allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are rife and investigations are rare," Amnesty said in its July 23 statement.

With reporting by Novaya Gazeta, TASS, and Interfax