Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Human Rights Activists Blast Detention Center Conditions

Human rights activists Monday blasted Moscow's pre-trial detention centers, saying conditions there were at unprecedentedly low levels and worse than in any other such facilities in Russia.

"Of all the pretrial detention centers in Russia, those in Moscow are the worst and grossly violate human rights," said Andrei Babushkin, head of Novy Dom, an independent human rights organization that dispenses legal advice to prisoners and their families.

Of the 35 basic rights guaranteed in the Russian Constitution, Babushkin said, 19 are regularly violated in the city's detention centers, where 17,000 people are currently held. Babushkin estimated that 280 detainees died in the first nine months of this year, although, he added, it is extremely difficult to determine the exact causes of these deaths.

Babushkin cited a case this month in which the mother of a 31-year-old man awaiting trial for hooliganism came to visit her son at Matrosskaya Tishina, only to find that he had died several days earlier. Prison officials then showed her a photograph in which his body was grossly mutilated, but insisted that he had died of natural causes.

"How many other corpses like this are there in other Moscow detention centers?" Babushkin asked. "We have no way of knowing because the Moscow police don't answer any of our questions."

Violent deaths aside, Babushkin pointed to disastrous conditions in sickrooms infested with cockroaches and bedbugs, and overcrowding that made breathing a virtual impossibility.

"The biggest problem in Moscow's detention centers is the lack of air," he said. "A person can live without sun; he can live without food or water to a certain degree. But the reason that mortality is rising so quickly is the absence of air." Nevertheless, he said, Matrosskaya Tishina forbids the use of ventilators.

In Butyrka, meanwhile, 120 to 150 prisoners are crammed into rooms intended for no more than 30.

Overcrowding has led to a tuberculosis epidemic throughout Russian prisons causing 2,000 prisoners to die last year, according to the Committee for Urgent Assistance to Prisoners, a recently formed non-governmental organization made up of human rights activists and ex-convicts. The number of deaths is expected to increase by 30 percent in 1996.

"What's the main reason for crime? It's not lack of money; it's not because the police or the government work badly. It's in the general mentality of our population which does not respect other lives or other individuals or their property or their safety," Babushkin said. "Unless radical personnel changes are made in Moscow's pretrial detention centers, the situation will become even more unbearable. Every day without change means another corpse, another sacrifice of human life."