Russian prison rape whistleblower seeks asylum

He is at the origin of an unprecedented leak of videos of organized rape and torture in Russian prisons: after an incredible journey, Belarusian Sergei Savelev asks for asylum in France. Passed through Istanbul and Tunis, the 31-year-old ex-detainee arrived in the night from Friday to Saturday at Roissy and has been in the waiting area for asylum seekers ever since. .

In early October, unbearable images of a prisoner being raped using a long pole in a prison-hospital in Saratov caused a scandal in Russia. Four regional prison officials are sacked, and even the Kremlin spokesman reacts to the horror. It was in this establishment that Sergei Savelev was imprisoned, convicted in a case of drug trafficking.

Systemic rapes

It is also there that, under the guise of his computer maintenance functions, he patiently and discreetly downloads the video files of prisons all over Russia, these being linked to each other by an intranet. “At the beginning, they controlled me then this surveillance gradually relaxed until it disappeared,” says this frail and shy man.

The NGO Gulagu.net, which published the images of Saratov, explains that Sergei Savelev gave him quantities of videos, proving the systemic nature of the ill-treatment in Russian jails. Sergey Savelev recounts having succeeded, shortly before his release in early February 2021, in hiding the media on which he recorded data near his exit from prison.

Rape, film and humiliate

The violence committed in prisons and recorded on these videos is very often done by other prisoners, in the pay of the prison authorities in search of cookies or confessions. One scenario consists of filming sexual abuse inflicted on a victim, then the video serves as a means of blackmail for the tortured inmate to cooperate. Because if the rape is made public in the prison, the prisoner will fall to the lowest rungs of a very hierarchical prison world, becoming an outcast, a “pétoukh” (rooster) in the rich vocabulary of convicts.

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Sergei says he suffered ill-treatment in a Krasnodar prison so that he “cooperates”, without knowing the worst. And he claims to have never taken part in violence against other detainees. Blows, he received “about once a week but not too strong to avoid too visible bruises.”

Fear of retaliation

To describe the psychological pressures, he tells this anecdote: “My father traveled 1,000 km to bring sausage to his son. He tried one day, then the next day he slept in his car for three nights and they wouldn’t let him in ”.

His psychologist in Minsk “was horrified by what I was telling him. He organized sessions but nothing helped ”, says Sergei,“ he prescribed me some pills, then others and others more powerful yet but none of that gave me any relief ”.

For having stolen and distributed the videos illustrating this system, Sergei Savelev, who seeks asylum in France, says he now fears reprisals from the Russian prison administration (FSIN) and the security services (FSB). He says he narrowly escaped them in Russia, assuring that agents had offered him, in exchange for his cooperation, four years in prison for “revealing a state secret” rather than 10 to 20 years for espionage. “They were not interested in knowing that there were human rights violations.”

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