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Urals Human Rights Group: On the trial of the head of Penal Colony No. 6 in Kopeisk

posted 9 Feb 2014, 12:41 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Feb 2014, 12:51 ]
6 February 2014

Source: Pravozashchitniki Urala
Press Release 

Urals Human Rights Group 

On the trial of the head of Penal Colony No. 6 at Kopeisk 

Today at Kopeisk city court the trial continued of the head of Penal Colony No.6, Major Denis Mekhanov, charged with abuse of office resulting in serious consequences (Article 285, Section 3, Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) and illegal manufacture of weapons (Article 223, Section 4).

Judge G.A. Yarygin opened the session by considering the request of the victim S.B. Tikkhonov made at the end of the previous hearing: information about threats to him and his family, the request to transfer him to a FSB remand centre for the period of the trial. S.B. Tikhonov, answering a question from the judge as to what facts the request was based uopon, responded that he no longer wished to make the request because the issue had been resolved and he was ready to give his testimony. In this connection it should be noted that the ‘resolution of the issue’, according to information we have, did not happen in a straightforward manner and involved far from legal means, because for us, the problem of threats against victims and witnesses in this criminal case and their safety remains, and we intend to return to it as soon as we have firm evidence of violations of the law by staff of the prison service.

The questioning began of the victim Sergei Borisovich Tikhonov, who we heard until a break in the hearing, after which, unfortunately, we could not attend the hearing, But what we heard was enough to provide for one more judicial investigation (and more than one criminal cases).

First of all, the victim Tikhonov said quite plainly and repeated many times that the instructions to extort money from the prisoners were given personally by the head of the penal colony D. S. Mekhanov, including directly to prisoners in his office, via his subordinates, and also through prisoners who had close relations with him. And also that for refusing to take part in the extortion of money Mekhanov personally ordered that prisoners should be harassed. 

Photo: In the corridor of the courthouse. Denis Mekhanov is the last person coming up the staircase

Thus, when Tikhonov refused to extort money from other prisoners on Mekhanov’s orders (he was told to ‘collect’ 22,000 roubles over 7-10 days, using any means whatsoever to force prisoners to give money), Mekhanov personally in his office gave the order to the head of security D.G Shchegol to take Tikhonov (along with other prisoners who had refused) to the punishment cells. Violations of the internal regulations of the colony were fabricated against Tikhonov (the matter of another criminal investigation) and Tikhonov was put in the punishment cell. When Tikhonov, as soon as possible, write a complaint to the prosecutor against the actions of Mekhanov, he was immediately beaten by a prison officer (whose name he has supplied) to such an extent that until now (a year and a half later!) his hearing is poor in one ear, after which he was tied, spread-eagled, against the bars of the medical room. (In 2012 we found, photographed and posted on the internet these bars that still had traces of tape which were used to tie prisoners to them – which should surely be grounds for one more criminal investigation, surely?

When Tikhonov did succeed in sending the complaint to the prosecutor’s office, he received the standard purely formal response: prosecutors had visited the scene, conducted an inspection, and found everything to be lawful (surely a third criminal case?). The prosecutor did not consider it necessary to question Tikhonov himself (or the hundreds of others who made complaints) about the facts described in the complaint.

It is necessary to explain the Tikhonov’s statement that he was permitted not to limit himself in the means used to extort money from prisoners on the order of Mekhanov. Tikhonov himself described these means in court. 

Photo: Defendants in the courtroom. Sergei Tikhonov is on the right.

He was permitted to:

- sell prisoners meetings with relatives (the prisoner gives money and receives a meeting in exchange); 

- remove violations from the prisoners’ records or give rewards;

- use blackmail and threats (‘if you don’t pay…)

In answer to a question from the prosecution that pointed out Tikhonov had no powers to permit meetings, and so on, Tikhonov explained that he had to obtain money from the prisoner, report this to a prison officer, and then the head of the colony Mekhanov who had these powers, signed permission for a meeting or ordered rewards (punishments) and so on.

Tikhonov also described the system for obtaining money: threat – passing the number of the telephone outside the prison that the family member had to call – giving the opportunity to the prisoner to phone relatives (with the conversation recorded) – telling the relative when they phone the number of the telephone – the relative phones where instructed and then either gives the money to the person they are told to give it to, or transfer the money to a bank card, the number of which they are also told. This system was exactly the same as the one described by the victim L.P. Nesterova, the mother of the prisoner Nesterov, at earlier court sessions.

Tikhonov also reported one other curious fact: over a year he worked in the colony’s security department where he serviced computers, prepared various documents, including those marked ‘For internal use only’. In other words, he was given nothing less than access to information about prisoners, the system of security in the colony, that is protected by law (a fourth criminal case). He was not formally employed (criminal case No. 5).

In general Tikhonov said that in Penal Colony No. 6 there was no legal production – all the production that was carried out (furniture, souvenirs, honey, syringes, cement blocks) was illegal. He came to this conclusion because most of the prisoners were not paid for the work they did (criminal case No. 6), but when a commission of any kind came to the colony, the prisoners were removed from these production sites and were hidden away. We have no grounds to doubt that Tikhonov’s statement did not reflect the truth, since we ourselves were not only witnesses of such events, but even filmed them on video, which we placed on the internet (in order to stop the investigation into the Penal Colony No. 6 from being closed). Underground production at Penal Colony No. 6, about which Tikhonov told the court, constitute a seventh criminal case. All these allegations of criminal wrongdoing, in our firm opinion, must be thoroughly investigated.

At today’s court hearing, there were ‘guests’ from Moscow and Ekaterinburg: M. Senkevich, E. Merkacheva, and I. Golendukhin. We believe that they intend to make public their impressions.

Lastly, what is extraordinarily unpleasant is that the lawyers acting for Mekhanov and the prosecutor sat comfortably at tables, have the opportunity to use the materials of the case, tablets, and to make recordings at will. The question the participants in the trial while sitting.

The representatives of the VICTIMS – the lawyer E.O. Goroshko and the lawyer from our group, D.A. Latypov – make do with an ordinary bench, write on their knees, and have nowhere to put their materials. They always stand to ask questions and and give answers, the same as the victims themselves! Is this in accordance with the procedural code? And does the judge not have the right to create ADEQUATE conditions for them to work? It’s as though everyone forgot that they are indeed victims, and are not facing any charges themselves.

The victim Tikhonov, whose health deteriorated after he suffered beatings and torture in Penal Colony No. 6, and who has been weakened by prolonged stays in prison-type conditions in pre-trial detention, gave testimony over many hours standing up (the elderly L.P. Nesterova did the same). It was clear how hard this was for him. And what is that kind of treatment?

This does not show our justice system in a good light, nor those who personally have been in charge of this trial today.

Nikolai Shchur,
Director, Urals Human Rights Group

+7 922235 2551