How the FSB Tortures: The St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission’s Report and the Stories of the Victims
Torture victims and activists say violence has become a common practice in the security services. Anyone whosoever can become their victim: Muslims and atheists, anarchists and entrepreneurs, industrial climbers and police officers. The victims are afraid to talk about what happened to them, while family members, physicians, and eyewitnesses are threatened into staying silent. Members of the St. Petersburg Public Commission for Monitoring Conditions in Places of Detention (hereafter, PMC) have written a report on how the FSB tortures detainees and witnesses in FSB offices, remand prisons, vehicles, forests, and garages. We have excerpted the highlights of their report in what follows, as well as publishing a video (above) in which the victims and their relatives tell their own stories.
“Writhing from the Electrical Current, He Lifted the FSB Officer and Himself into the Air”
In December 2017, the FSB’s Saint Petersburg office announced it had prevented a terrorist attack on Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral, in downtown Petersburg. Seven people were detained on suspicion of involvement in planning the attack. Five of them were remanded in custody. What happened to the other two suspects is still not known.
One of the detainees, Aliskhan Esmurziyev, says his torture began in a minivan, in which FSB officers, their faces covered, kicked and tasered him. He was then taken to an FSB office, where he could hear the other detainees screaming. After he was interrogated by an investigator, he was taken to a separate room, where, according to Esmurziyev, he was handcuffed, a sack was pulled over his head, and crocodile clips were attached to his feet. Esmurziyev was electrocuted while an FSB officer sat astride him. His body writhing from the electrical current, Esmurziyev lifted the FSB officer and himself into the air.
Another detainee, Shamil Omargadzhiyev, was beaten in front of his pregnant wife. According to the PMC’s information, FSB officers broke into his home, which they searched while beating and kicking him, knocking out one of his teeth and demanding he confess to planning the terrorist attack. When he was delivered to court, he fainted several times. In the compartment of the paddy wagon in which he had been transported, it had been difficult for him to breath. Six feet five inches tall, Omargadzhiyev had had his hands tied back in a way that made it impossible for him to sit down and thus breathe.
Both detainees are accused of illegal possession of weapons (punishable under Article 222 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). Esmurziyev filed a complaint with the Russian Investigative Committee about the crimes committed against him, but later rescinded the complaint for “procedural” reasons. Omargadzhiyev’s defense counsel also filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee, but it refused to open a criminal investigation while also not allowing him to see the written judgment that explained the reasons for the refusal.
“If I Didn’t Know the Answer, I Was Electrocuted”
Eleven young men in St. Petersburg and Penza were accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” and arrested. Most of them are antifascists and anarchists. The FSB claims they were members of an underground organization known as the Network, which planned “to incite the popular masses in order to subsequently destabilize the political circumstances” in Russia during the March 2018 presidential election and this summer’s 2018 FIFA Football World Cup, held in Russia. The case is currently under investigation. Most of the suspects have been in remand prisons since October 2017 and January 2018, respectively, and several of them have reported being tortured.
Novosibirsk native Arman Sagynbayev was detained in Petersburg in November 2017. He would later recount that he had been put in a minivan and had a sack pulled over his head. Two wires were attached to his hands, and he was electrocuted while being beaten over the head with something resembling a day planner.
“The torture lasted approximately four hours, but I cannot say for certain, because I had no way of telling the time and I was in a lot of pain,” Sagynbayev recounts.
Petersburg resident Yuli Boyarshinov was jailed in an overcrowded cell at Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo, located just beyond the Petersburg city lines in neighboring Leningrad Region. In the cell, which had 110 cots for 150 prisoners, the “senior” inmates, who cooperated with the wardens, routinely beat up the other prisoners. Boyarshinov was also beaten. He was called to the kitchen, which is not outfitted with CCTV cameras, and quizzed about the circumstances of his arrest. He was beaten in such a way that no traces of the assault were left on his body. He was also threatened with rape.
FSB officers detained Viktor Filinkov at Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport in January 2018. He was taken to an unknown location, where the FSB officers commenced interrogating, beating, and electrocuting him right in the vehicle.
Subsequently, members of the Petersburg PMC noted numerous wounds on his thigh in the shape of paired, evenly spaced dots, such as a taser would have left behind.
“If I didn’t know the answer,” says Filinkov, “I was electrocuted. If my answer was not what they expected, I was electrocuted. If I thought for too long or took to long to give an answer, I was electrocuted. If I forgot what I had been told, I was electrocuted.”
Filinkov’s defense counsel filed an official request for a criminal investigation, but his request was rejected. In September 2018, he filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Members of the Petersburg PMC visited Igor Shishkin, another suspect in the Network case, on January 27, 2018. Since he was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and trousers, they noted only the injuries they could see, including
- a large bruise around his left eye all the way to the bone;
- blood in the corner of his left eye;
- an abrasion in the middle of his left cheek;
- marks from handcuffs on both hands;
- a split lower lip;
- a bruise around his right eye;
- scratches on his left cheek;
- a burn on the back of his left hand.
Later, similar burns were noted on Shiskin’s back and the back of his thigh.
Ilya Kapustin was not a suspect in the Network case. Nevertheless, he was interrogated as a witness and tasered for four hours in a car before being taken to FSB headquarters, where the interrogation was resumed.
The Malvina Taser
Major Ilya Shchukin, head of the property crimes desk at the Tosno District Police Precinct, and Field Investigator Sergei Laslov are suspected of official misconduct and falsifying evidence. They allegedly replaced Suprastin with amphetamines in a pack of cigarettes confiscated from a detainee. Prior to this, they had allegedly been involved in planting drugs on people to bolster clearance rates.
On April 12, 2017, FSB officers detained Shchukin and two of his colleagues in the town of Kirishi. Shchukin was dragged from his car and immobilized. The hood of his jacket was pulled over his head, and he was taken to a van. In the van, he was asked what he was doing there. When he replied, officers of the FSB’s special weapons and tactics division Grad (“Hail”) told him he was lying and tasered his fingers several times. He was asked more questions and electrocuted several times. Shchukin was tortured for approximately an hour and a half. He was electrocuted in the groin and anus. The Grad officers told Shchukin he would have no more children.
“The door of the van would open from time to time. I would hear a man saying I was talking shit and the Grad officers should keep working me over,” Shchukin recounts.
Shchukin was then taken to another van and forced to kneel with his hands cuffed behind his back for approximately an hour. Only then was Shchukin driven to an FSB office. He refused to plead guilty. During interrogations, Shchukin told his interrogators on several occasions that he had been tortured. His burns were examined by a specialist, but the specialist was, supposedly, unable to establish whether the wounds were typical of a taser, since he did not the taser’s model. Shchukin knew it was a Malvina brand taser, but his appeal for a second forensic examination was rejected.
Sergei Laslov was detained on July 6, 2017, in his police precinct. He was driven in a bus to nearby garages. It was there, Laslov recounts, that an FSB officer demanded he confess to the crime, and a Grad officer tasered him. Laslov refused to confess his guilt, and so he was driven to a forest on the outskirts of Tosno. There, says Laslov, a senior FSB officer ordered he be bent forward head towards the floor, and a Grad officer beat him, delivering taser blows to his crotch and groin.
A short propaganda film about the Petersburg FSB Grad unit, broadcast on Russian television and posted on YouTube in 2014. This video is not part of the Petersburg PMC and Team 29’s report, but it nicely characterizes the extreme militarization of policing under the Putin regime.
Laslov was tortured for over two hours. The first taser went dead, so the Grad officer was given another, larger taser. Ultimately, Laslov agreed to tell how, allegedly, he had committed the crime so they would stop torturing him. He was driven to an FSB office, where he signed a typewritten statement.
“I Felt Unbearable Pain”
Igor Salikov is accused of sexual assault. He believes his ex-wife paid the security services to charge him with the crime.
Salikov says that on the early morning of May 7, 2018, police investigators, an FSB officer, and a masked man came to the home he shares with his common-law wife Olga Smirnova in the village of Ogonki, Leningrad Region, for the latest in a series of searches. Later, Salnikov would identify the masked man as the officer with the FSB’s economic security service in Petersburg’s Petrograd District who searched his house in October in connection with a weapons possession investigation.
It was the masked man, Salikov says, who handcuffed him and repeatedly struck Olga Smirnova with a truncheon. She was then driven away by plainclothes FSB officers, while Salikov was interrogated. When the FSB officer did not like his answers, he hit Salikov with a truncheon and tasered him. Salikov’s female housekeeper called the police, but when they arrived, the FSB officer and one of the investigators went outside to talk with them, and they soon left.
After Salikov again refused to incriminate himself, he was pushed in the back and fell face first on the floor. Salikov recalls that the FSB officers took one of the rifles Salikov kept in the house and used it to strike Salikov in the anus.
“The blow was so strong the rifle barrel penetrated me, ripping through my trousers, and nearly nailing me to the floor. I felt unbearable pain.”
An ambulance was summoned. Salikov was first taken to the district hospital, and then to Petersburg, where he was able to get the medical attention he needed. He was diagnosed as having suffered a ruptured bladder, ruptured anus, ruptured colon, and other injuries.
Salikov’s request to have a criminal torture investigation opened was turned down, since it was, allegedly, impossible to establish the involvement of specific officers in the Petrograd District office of the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate.
The members of the St. Petersburg PMC argue torture has become an integral part of the investigations and inquiries carried out by officers of the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate. As the PMC members point out, however, local FSB officers enjoy absolute impunity, since neither the Military Investigative Committee nor the military courts do their jobs. The PMC members suggest disbanding the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate and prosecuting all FSB officers involved in torture without transferring the directorate’s functions to another organization.
Authors: Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya, Members of the St. Petersburg Public Commission for Monitoring Conditions in Places of Detention
Legal Consultant: Daryana Gryaznova
Video: Anastasia Andreyeva
Editors: Nikolai Ovchinnikov and Tatyana Torocheshnikova
Translated by the Russian Reader