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Open dialogue between Vladimir Turbanov, head of Chelyabinsk region penitentiary services, and Nikolai Shchur, member of Chelyabinsk region Public Oversight Commission

7 December 2012

Source: Chelyabinsk Region Public Oversight Commission

Open letter to the media by Vladimir Turbanov, head of the Chief Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia (GUFSIN Russia) for the Chelyabinsk region and Major-General of the Internal Service

Several media outlets and human rights organisations are currently spreading false information about the events at Penal Colony № 6 (PC-6) in the Chelyabinsk Region, regarding the alleged presence of 12 corpses of prisoners beaten by special forces, and their transportation to other prisons. I can give state with full authority that the situation at the Penal Colony is currently stable and fully under the control of the management. Heavy-handed force has not been used against prisoners, and Special Forces have not been summoned. There were no Special Forces casualties.

In the future, substantial work will be undertaken to clarify all the reasons for the events and the circumstances surrounding them. Once we have received the results of the official investigation we will be prepared to give our point of view on the events mentioned in the numerous statements and claims. We are open to dialogue with journalists, and would like to invite you to Penal Colony No. 6 in the Chelyabinsk region, where you will be given the opportunity to witness the prisoners’ living conditions and leisure facilities.

Unquestionably there can be no justification for what has happened. I do not accept responsibility, either on behalf of GUFSIN in the region or personally. We will get to the bottom of it. We are keen to dissipate the current tension.

You can rest assured that if the thorough scrutiny of the investigators, prosecutors and public representatives finds fault in the management and officials at the prison, the employees involved will receive their due punishment in accordance with the law. But it should also be remembered that the prisoners who violated the conditions of their detention and incited other prisoners to acts of provocation will also be investigated. With this aim we are open to dialogue with members of the Public Oversight Commission (POC). We are in no way deliberately hindering their work, and we will not do so in the future. We are prepared to listen to their opinion, and to resolve the current disagreements by peaceful means. Nobody intends to conceal anything. Everything should be done fairly, and we will put things right.

I would like to express my particular thanks to those media outlets and non-governmental organisations which have taken an objective approach to the affair and which are doing all they can to stabilise the situation.

I am aware of my responsibility for the results of my work, and I am not ashamed to look each of you in the eye. I am ashamed for those who distort the truth, evade their responsibilities and undermine trust in the authorities.

It is clear that all the negative information about the operations of the Chelyabinsk region penal system has the sole aim of destabilising the situation at the prison and the penal system as a whole. Meanwhile, all major regional television channels, news agencies and newspapers have been able to see with their own eyes the living conditions for prisoners, which allow them to serve their sentences in accordance with current legislation.

In defence of our department, I would like to say that since time immemorial the first things built by states have been churches and prisons. Our work is important and essential for society. We are all part of one society, so let’s treat each other correctly.

Yours faithfully,

V.N. Turbanov 
Head of GUFSIN Russia for the Chelyabinsk region
Major-General of the Internal Service
Open reply to the letter by head of GUFSIN Russia for the Chelyabinsk region Vladimir Nikolaevich Turbanov to the media, published on the GUFSIN website on 7th December 2012 

Dear Major-General Turbanov,

Allow me to state my views regarding your letter.

It was, undeniably, necessary - as you rightly hinted, it was high time something was said to the public, instead of simply reproducing the oft-repeated, tired mantra about “the actions of organised criminals” and the need to “relax regulations”. However, you haven’t let this slip from your professional mentality entirely - at the end you still couldn’t refrain from singing from the GUFSIN hymn sheet when you talked about the “destabilisation of the situation at the prison”.

Your letter is full of Freudian slips. You claim to be “open to dialogue with members of the Public Oversight Commission”, but only if the “fault of the management is proven” or if the dialogue is about investigating “prisoners who violated the conditions of their detention and incited other prisoners into acts of provocation”. “There were no Special Forces casualties” is another slip - clearly here you meant to state “there were no casualties at all”.

You wrote that “in the future, substantial work will be undertaken to clarify all the reasons for the events and the circumstances surrounding them”. This simply shows you up – don’t you know the reasons today - ??? Then I really can’t understand why suddenly you are head of GUFSIN, and a General to boot - ? Or are you one of those who claim that “no repressions took place in 1937 - all the democrats are lying?” I tell you what; I’ll translate this into a more familiar language for you. I’ll ask you directly - do you mean to say that there was no blackmail, no extortion of money from prisoners and their relatives, no torture or beatings, no using prisoners for slave labour (paying 20-30 roubles [£0.40 - £0.60] a month)? That all the human rights activists (and hundreds of prisoners, hundreds of their relatives, and members of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council...) are lying? And that this wasn’t the reason behind the peaceful act of civil disobedience that took place at PC-6?

What do you take us for, General? I know the level of your subordinates rather well, Mr Turbanov. I can tell you that there is no point discussing things at their level - it would look very stupid to outsiders.

The public relations aspect of your letter is clear. It’s good that it has appeared, albeit rather late. And even though it clearly demonstrates your lack of readiness for systemic dialogue (as opposed to a transitory dialogue), we, your opponents, are prepared to talk. In spite of everything.

But I recommend that you at least do something tangible to convince both us and society (and the prisoners and their relatives who wait with bated breath), that both you personally and your Administration have grasped something and recognised that you need to make fundamental changes.

Here’s what that ‘something tangible’ is:

1. You should urgently suspend the most odious officials from PC-6: D.S. Mekhanov, E.P. Zyakhor, G.K. Shchegol and S.N. Akhmatinurov. Suspend them, and don’t hide behind phrases such as ‘the investigation is still running’, ‘blame has yet to be apportioned’ etc.

2. Issue an injunction that forbids your subordinates from lying incessantly to everyone - to prisoners, their relatives, members of the POC, the media... - the list is endless. And don’t force me to give examples of the lies told by your subordinates, because I will.

3. Give instructions to urgently stop extortion in all units within your institutions, and to stop torture and abuse of prisoners and their relatives. Urgently, Mr Turbanov.

4. Give orders to urgently and permanently stop the placing of prisoners in isolation cells for an indefinite period. Or will you continue to insist, as usual, that you are “acting in accordance with the law”?

5. Issue the command to start recalculating the salary paid to all working prisoners at all institutions, and repay the huge sums of money earned that have been taken from them. Contact the Investigative Committee, personally requesting that criminal proceedings be brought against those who paid people the derisory sum of 15 roubles [£0.30] for a whole month’s work. Or will you once again start talking about the law, the minimum wage and so on?

6. Give all prisoners in all areas free access to a pay phone, so they can reassure their relatives across Russia (and further afield) that they are okay.

7. Get rid of the Discipline and Order Squads. And don’t say that you don’t have any - that’s a lie, and it’s not funny. It really doesn’t matter what your current ‘activists’ are called - they are the same old Discipline and Order Squad members (and you are jailers, however much you might resent the fact). I recommend that you gather together all Discipline and Order Squad members into one prison - for their own safety. As a matter of fact, there are prisons for ‘former policemen’. Discipline and Order Squad members belong in the same category.

As I have already said, this is just one small step. A huge number of issues and proposals remain. These are things we are prepared to discuss. But only in a constructive manner, and not on the level of your fairy tales about “relaxing regulations”.

And another thing. It would be logical for you to allow all members of the POC to take mobile communication devices with them into the institutions, so that they could communicate quickly both with you and with other officials in the event that it becomes necessary to force your subordinates to follow the law on public oversight. Whereas on 27th November our mobile devices were confiscated and we were placed under arrest in PC-6, as you will remember. And on 3rd December we were simply refused entry to the prison - we had to call Lieutenant General Eduard Petrukhin in Moscow and turn to the press. Couldn’t you really do without this?

One final point, General. You used history to defend your department, saying that “since time immemorial the first things built by states have been churches and prisons”. Has the excellent head of your press service with his PhD in History (or even you yourself) found a good example of this? I don’t have any academic titles, but I also remember something from both the distant past and the contemporary history of what, it is true, is not my native country.

As far as I recall, managers overseeing departments where a scandal erupted tendered their resignation immediately, without waiting for the “thorough scrutiny of the investigators and prosecutors”. And several, for whom the shame was simply unbearable, even remembered their service weapons. Do not think, heaven forbid, that I am calling on you to do any such thing! I am merely recalling history, just as your press secretary does.

And so, General, on this cheerful historical note I will finish.

Yours without respect,

Nikolai Shchur,
Member of the POC 
7 December 2012