Hundreds of prisoners at Prison Number 6 in Kopeisk, in the Urals region of Russia, have fought fierce battles with screws and security forces and launched a rooftop occupation in a protest against draconian conditions, torture, extortion, and the use of solitary confinement. Four inmates have died at the prison in recent years following beatings from staff. The protest lasted for two days before the police and army special forces managed to regain control.
The trouble started when around 250 prisoners refused to follow the prison rules and routine, demanding the immediate release of those in solitary confinement. An end to barbaric treatment and extortion were the main demands that the prisoners had. Whilst on the roof, the prisoners unfurled placards that read, “Help us”, and “We have a thousand on hunger strike”
Around 300 of the prisoner’s family and friends, as well as many former prisoners, gathered outside the jail, and staged a protest. They were shouting obscenities and throwing bottles at police and prison staff. The police made battered the protesters and made 39 arrests before the protest concluded.
A local newspaper reported that:
“Human rights activist Oksana Trufanova told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that OMON (riot police) troops attacked the group outside the prison. They beat us with batons, Trufanova said. "Their eyes were shining.” I have never been in such mayhem”
The sister of a prisoner, Olga Belousova, was allowed inside the prison along with a small number of relatives. She gave a brief interview after leaving the prison:
“There were 60 people in the room, all were standing quietly. I told them that we support them and came to make sure everything is fine and that we want to make sure their voices are heard outside the colony.”
The complaints, which were read out by the prisoners, include extensive examples of extortion, inappropriate and excessive use of force, and other humiliations. Belousova added that:
“They don’t touch those who give them money, but against those who can’t they use force to make their relatives pay”
The mother of a former prisoner claims that her son was tortured countless times and sexually abused by prison officers at Prison Number 6.
The father of another former prisoner told a local news agency that he has paid off prison staff on two occasions:
“Every month… if you don’t bring money, there will be problems. Payments in prison are often referred to as voluntary contributions”
An ombudsman who has investigated the complaints previously has reported that the money demanded by prison staff can be as much as 200,000 rubles ($6,400). In comparison, the average salary in Russia is just $10,000.
The prison governor does not deny the extortion by his staff. He met with relatives and announced that he is willing to abolish the ‘voluntary contributions’. Relatives are worried that any such move would result in retaliations by the screws.
Following two days of rioting and prisoners controlling the jail, the screws, police, and army special-forces managed to regain control of the facility. There are 250 riot police remaining inside the prison.