A Russian dissident jailed under a controversial new Kremlin law says he is being beaten, repeatedly tortured and threatened with murder at the penal colony where he is being held in north-west Russia.
Ildar Dadin says he is the victim of systematic abuse perpetrated by the head of the prison, Maj Sergey Kossiev, and his staff. He alleges that Kossiev has told him that if he complains about his treatment he will be killed and secretly buried.
A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin would be informed of the allegations, while Russian media reported that the regional branch of Russia’s investigative committee would look into Dadin’s claims.
In response to the letter, Amnesty International has called for Dadin’s release. “We are urging Russian authorities to end the pattern of impunity for torture and other ill treatment and investigate Ildar Dadin’s appalling allegations,” Sergei Nikitin, the director of Amnesty International Russia, said. “They must also immediately and unconditionally release Ildar Dadin, and provide him with full remedy for the injustice done to him.”
Dadin, 34, was jailed in 2015 after staging a series of anti-government protests. He was convicted under a new law which criminalises public assembly, and given a three-year sentence, which was later cut to two and a half.
In the letter to his wife, Anastasia, smuggled out of prison by his lawyer, he described having all of his belongings confiscated, and claims two razor blades were planted on him as an excuse to send him to solitary confinement by way of “punishment”.
The following day he says Kossiev arrived with three prison warders and began to beat him. “Over the course of that day, I was beaten a total four times, by 10-12 people at once. They would kick me,” he writes. “After the third beating, they lowered my head into a toilet right there in the holding cell.”
He goes on to describe being cuffed and hung from the ceiling. “Being suspended in this manner brought about terrible pain in the wrists, twisted out my elbows, and caused horrible back pain. I was suspended like that for half an hour.
“Then they took off my underwear and said they would bring another prisoner to rape me unless I stopped my hunger strike.”
The prison boss later allegedly told Dadin that if he complained his beatings could be made worse, and he could be killed and buried “under the fence”.
Dadin also claims he is being beaten “several times a day” as well as bullied and routinely humiliated. “This is happening with the other prisoners, as well,” he writes.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch who spent 10 years in jail in Russia before being amnestied in 2013, told the Guardian he was familiar with these conditions. Khodorkovsky said he was locked up in the same penal colony in Karelia after being convicted for a second time.
“Ildar Dadin has finished up in the same prison camp, simply for protesting peacefully and for expressing his personal views. Before I was there, in Soviet times, political prisoners were locked up there too,” he says.
“It’s an extremely tough place. In recent years the prison authorities specialised in ‘breaking’ serious criminals using illegal methods. I’m afraid we’re once more in times where the new task is the intimidation of political activists.”
Russian prison officials cast doubt on the claims. “Not one physical injury has been found on Dadin,” said the deputy head of Russia’s prison service, Valery Maksimenko, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta quoted an unidentified local prison service official as acknowledging that physical force had been used on Dadin, but only when he refused to leave his cell or defied prison guards. Dadin denies the accusations.
Bill Browder, the chief executive of Hermitage Capital investment fund, said Dadin’s treatment was reminiscent of that meted out to his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky was jailed and died in prison in 2009 after uncovering a $230m (£188m) tax fraud carried out by senior Kremlin officials.
Browder said those responsible for torturing Dadin should be put on the Magnitsky sanctions list, introduced by the US and several EU countries. The act freezes the assets of Russian officials who violate human rights.
“What shocked me is that they hung him up by his wrists. It brought me right back to seven years ago when Sergei Magnitsky was killed,” Browder said. “I pray it doesn’t happen to Dadin.”
Approximately 50 people went to the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service on Tuesday night to submit requests for an investigation into Dadin’s mistreatment, a photographer at the scene said.