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What has the leadership of the Chelyabinsk POC been trying to hide from the press?

19 December 2012

Press Release by NGOs that have presented their nominees for the Public Oversight Committee (POC) of Chelyabinsk oblast 


At a regular meeting of the POC a month ago (15 November, 2012), an observer group made up of V. Prikhodkina, T. Shchur, D. Latypova and N. Shchura lodged grievances against the work of A.M. Tarasyuk as Chairman of the POC for Chelyabinsk oblast. 

But then, by a majority of votes, discussion of the issue was postponed until the following meeting, on 20 December. Notably, it was specifically acknowledged that the issue was on the agenda, and that it must be considered.

However, as things stand, a completely different agenda has been released by the POC leadership, and after a complaint was lodged with them about this meddling, the leadership stated that it had held an email vote amongst POC members, on the basis of which a decision had been made not to allow the media to attend the meeting. What is more, this so-called vote constituted a breach of the rules (it having happened without a discussion, without information on a quorum, without members of the POC being properly informed, within a narrow timeframe, and so on). 

Here is the text of a letter sent out to POC members yesterday. (Some POC members were actually conducting inspections of penal colonies at that time and, naturally, were unable to take part in the vote. The leadership were aware of this, that someone might not get the message because of a lack of access to email.) 

Dear members of the Public Oversight Committee, 

Please be advised:

1. Following the results of a vote, agenda version No. 1 (see attached) was approved for the POC meeting that will be held on 20 December, 2012.

2. It is essential that the issue of whether the press should be invited to tomorrow's event be resolved by 1600 today. All members of the ONK must vote on the issue: Should a 'public meeting' (with the press in attendance) or a 'closed meeting' be held on 20 December 2012? Your answer must be submitted today by 1600 to:

3. In the event that the vote goes in favour of holding a 'closed meeting', the POC leadership proposes, following the approval of the annual report, to name the date and to hold a press conference for the media, with speakers in attendance to identify the range of issues for discussion. Not signed.'

According to its members, which were the most significant issues to be raised with the POC leadership and discussed on 20 December? 

The behaviour of POC Chairman A.M. Tarasyuk during events in the Atlyan Correctional Colony (October of this year) and in Penal Colony-6 (November-December of this year). 

The participation of the POC in a meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Committee on 4 December this year. 

Rather than POC meetings being convened on certain days (say, every third Thursday of the month), as prescribed by an POC resolution, POC members are continually being informed at random of changes to the scheduling of meetings the day before, rather than well in advance. Consequently, POC members are not being given the opportunity to prepare to participate in the meetings. 

Agendas are almost never sent out in advance, so not only do POC members not know what will be discussed at the meeting, but they do not get the chance to submit their suggestions and corrections to it in time. 

Meetings of the POC are not convened for several months running and are cancelled without explanation nearly every time.
Not once has an special meeting of the POC been convened by the POC leadership on account of prison emergencies. 

The Chairman has fixed it so that POC members are prevented from inspecting the establishments:

· There were cases where the Vice-Chairman was forbidden from sending a notice of inspection without the Chairman’s approval;

· There were cases in the course of the observers' work where they were not allowed into establishments for an hour or more, until the Chairman had given his consent to the notification being delivered;

· The Chairman demands that POC members explain why an establishment due for inspection should be visited;
Information sent to the POC does not reach its members in a timely fashion:

· Information from other POCs,

· Letters from convicts who come to Elkina, 45,

· Replies from the authorities,

· During the inspection of establishments, prisoners repeatedly complained that they have not received replies to letters they sent to the POC at Elkina, 45. 

The POC leadership has ignored the participation of Chelyabinsk POC representatives in such important events as the European POC project, sponsored by the Council of Europe; participation in a penitentiary monitoring exercise to produce an alternative report on the results of a pilot judgment of the ECHR; participation of Chelyabinsk POC representatives in an POC conference attended by the Presidential envoy to the Urals Federal District; and the contribution of information towards a handbook for POC observers, sponsored by the Council of Europe. Not once has the leadership given ordinary POC members advance notice of pan-Russian training, forums or workshops, let alone invited them to attend. 
No reports on the activities of the POC are ever written – its annual reports have never yet been discussed at its meetings, whereas, according to the office of the Russian Human Rights Commissioner, the Chelyabinsk ONK has provided a report on its activities for the year 2011. In terms of its format, the annual report that was distributed is more a sort of calculating tool than a report by human rights defenders, and rather than identifying problems, it simply counts the number of visits. Such a report format does not reflect the work that has been accomplished and does not highlight the problems and proposed solutions, that is to say, it renders the work meaningless. 

The Chairman carried out an inspection of establishments singlehandedly and put his signature to reports written by a representative of the Main Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service (GUFSIN) that attest again and again that "no human rights violations were found". Confirmation of this can easily be found in the logs of the POC's visits to inspected establishments. 

Despite the flagrant human rights violations taking place in penitentiaries, log entries of POC visits to GUFSIN establishments, signed by the Chairman, are consistently being uncovered during inspections saying that no violations were found during the given visit. 

The Chairman grossly violated Russian legislation governing elections and the POC whilst he, together with POC member V.A. Catane, was serving as an POC observer of prison elections (!), and informed the media on behalf of the POC that there had been no violation of voters' rights. However, from the information he gave about this event at a meeting of the POC one can categorically conclude that the opposite was the case (the votes were counted before the legal voting period had ended). 

Over the course of two years, despite repeated requests, no information has been provided to ONK members about the ONK's record keeping:

· minutes of POC meetings,

· incoming and outgoing correspondence with the authorities,

· responses to complaints from prisoners,

· properly formalised POCresolutions. 

The work of POC members has been hampered by delays in the processing of documents required to visit particular establishments:

· The issue of visiting Prison/7 (FSB sanatorium) has not been resolved, and the observer group had to resolve the issue themselves,

· the issue of entry clearance to Ozersk was drawn out for months meaning that, in the end, an annual pass was never issued, as was the case in other oblasts. As a result of this, POC members are unable to work effectively on the numerous complaints from inmates at Penal Colony-24.

· A list of military prisons in the oblast has not yet been made available. 

Over the two years of the second convocation of the POC  not once have POC resolutions been properly enforced and brought into the public sphere, as required by the rules of procedure and by the law. That is to say, there is no transparency in the work of the POC  Even now, despite repeated POC resolutions, an POC website has yet to be created and no information on the work of the Chelyabinsk ONK has been sent out to any other websites. The Chelyabinsk POC did not exist in the public space until recently. 

POC resolutions on responding to human rights violations are not being implemented. Even when action is taken, POC members are not being informed, which makes it seem impossible to assess the efficacy of the work of the POC.

Despite the statement saying that the meeting would be closed, the press was allowed to attend. Also in attendance were V.N. Nazarkin, a GUFSIN representative; M. Babin, spokesperson for the Chelyabinsk Human Rights Commissioner; representatives of the Fund for Criminal Justice Reform; and members of the POC for the City of Moscow (E. Gordeeva and V. Sergeev).

Following a lively discussion, A.M. Tarasyuk was left as Chairman of the POC all the same, by 9 votes to 5. Clearly, the arguments given above were not enough for the those 9 POC members.

Well, then, we will just carry on working, in spite of everything.