The Case of Ildar Dadin
Why Society Has Not Ignored a Story about Torture in Prison
November 10, 2016
The controversy provoked by activist Ildar Dadin’s letter about the torture and abuse to which he and other prisoners have been subjected in the Segezha prison colony has been simmering for two weeks. The longer the topic of the inhumane treatment visited on people in penitentiaries occupies the media, including state TV channels, which have been forced to join the discussion of Dadin’s plight, the more likely society will be able to change things. Daily publications containing fresh testimonies about torture in Russian prisons have shown Dadin’s case is not unique. However, no controversies over violence in prisons have yet led to serious reforms of the penitentiary system or even a significant descrease in the number of “torture” colonies.
So what is different about the Dadin case? First, even Dadin’s ideological opponents have recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. Who seriously believes in the necessity of sending somone to prison for a series of peaceful solo pickets? Second, his obvious innocence in the eyes of the rank and filke attracts the attention of people unable to sympathize with criminals to torture in prisons. Third, Dadin has declared he is fighting not just for himself but for all convicts who are beaten and humiliated. He has conveyed via his lawyer that he has no wish to be transferred to another prison.
“He is convinced he has no right to be saved if he doesn’t help those who stay in the colony,” said Ksenia Kostromina, his attorney.
His conviction, bordering on obstinancy, his idealism on the verge of naïveté, and his sincere willingness to sacrifice himself to save others have made Dadin a much greater threat to the system than its consistent and predictable foes.
“Dadin and the prison wardens are two different worlds, worlds that do not understand each other. And when Dadin speaks about constitutional rights from a libertarian viewpoint, the prison wardens think they are being mocked in a sophisticated way,” Igor Kalyapin, member of the Human Rights Council, told Vedomosti.
This difference in outlooks manifested itself recently in the trial of Nizhny Novgorod policemen accused of employing violence against detainees. (Ultimately, they got off with probationary sentences.) Their defense attorney assured the court they had in fact been “fulfilling the president’s May decrees,” while the accused themselves claimed they had been “defending the Motherland.”
Yet there are reasons to regard the situation with cautious optimism. One of them is the offer made to Anna Karetnikova, the most active member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission’s last three rosters, to work in the Federal Penitentiary Service. The second is the unexpected encounter between activists who had gathered outside the Federal Penitentiary Service’s central office, after the publication of Dadin’s letter, with Valery Maximenko, deputy head of the service, and his public promises to meet regularly with the activists to discuss pressing issues. The third is the proposal to hold primaries for the Public Monitoring Commissions, which could result in the return of prominent human rights activists to the commissions. All this will be possible if civil society maintains its interest in the topic.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up.