Background Briefing

Torture by personnel of the Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2)

ORB-2 was established in 2002 and formally charged with detecting, preventing and suppressing actions by organized criminal groups.3

Following their visits to ORB-2 premises in Grozny in 2003 and 2004 respectively, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) and then-Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles expressed serious concerns about the numerous allegations of mistreatment of detainees held in the facility run by ORB-2 and questioned its legal status.4

The ORB-2 holding cells were finally formally “legalized” as a temporary holding facility (IVS) in November 2004 by an internal order of the Ministry of Interior, but operational investigative bureaus do not figure in a supposed comprehensive list—contained in the Federal Law of the Russian Federation on the Detention of Suspects and Accused Persons—of facilities authorized to hold detainees.5

Human Rights Watch interviewed several dozen people who were detained and tortured at ORB-2 premises between 2004 and 2006, as well as their relatives and lawyers; they consistently told of ORB-2 personnel coercing confessions under brutal ill-treatment and torture; denying detainees access to lawyers of their choice; preventing medical documentation of signs of torture by denying access to doctors and keeping detainees in custody until the signs of torture fade and, if suspects sought to renounce their coerced confessions after they were transferred to remand custody, subjecting them to further ill-treatment as punishment and to force them to stand by the original statements.  

In cases we researched, ORB-2 personnel seized persons, usually young males, from their homes, places of work, or the streets without identifying themselves or providing a warrant or any explanation. They then brought the detainees to the ORB-2 temporary detention facility and immediately started interrogating them.

In almost all cases, the detention was officially registered only after several days. During this time detainees’ families had no information on their relatives’ whereabouts, and the ORB-2 personnel interrogated the detainees in the absence of a lawyer, or with the participation of a lawyer appointed by ORB-2 personnel. According to the interviewees, the appointed lawyers ignored their complaints about torture—although they saw the torture marks on their clients’ bodies—and instead encouraged them to accept the charges.

During interrogations, ORB-2 personnel subjected the detainees to severe beatings, torture with electric shocks, suffocation, and threats or imitation of sexual violence. Most interviewees told Human Rights Watch that during these interrogations, which lasted for many hours, they were forced to confess to serious crimes, such as multiple murders or terrorist attacks, as well as to name other people allegedly involved with the rebel movement. In some cases, the confession had been prepared beforehand by the interrogators and contained exact dates, places, and identities of the victims. In other cases, the detainees themselves had to “choose” a crime and invent details that the interrogators would then record.

Once the confession was obtained and signed, the detainee was kept in the ORB-2 temporary detention facility for several days or sometimes weeks to allow any signs of torture, such as bruises or burns, to fade. The investigators would then transfer the accused to the remand prison (SIZO-1) in Grozny, where they stayed until and during trial.6

Several interviewees told Human Rights Watch that after being transferred to the SIZO, they complained to their lawyers or investigators about being tortured by ORB-2 personnel and tried to renounce their confession. They were then brought back to ORB-2, where the personnel would beat and abuse them with greater severity, forcing them to revert to their prior statements. Some interviewees said their lawyers often advised them to just accept the charges, believing this to be the only way to protect them from further abuse.

While initially detainees were usually charged with serious crimes, these charges were often dropped before or at trial. In the majority of cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the charges were eventually reduced to “organization of or participation in illegal armed formations” or “unlawful possession or transfer of weapons” (articles 208 and 222 of the Russian criminal code).7

In many cases the courts sentenced the defendants to prison terms shorter than those prescribed by the criminal code, to probation, or even released them, applying the time spent in pretrial detention toward the sentence. The courts, however, blatantly disregarded the defendants’ allegations of torture, even in cases where such allegations were supported by medical records and witness testimonies.

The case of two brothers, Sulim S. and Salambek S., documented by Human Rights Watch in September 2006 is illustrative of the above-described pattern.

Illegal arrest and torture of two brothers, Sulim S. and Salambek S.

In mid-March 2006, 29-year-old Sulim S. was on his way to work when about 10 armed men stopped him on the street and forced him into a car, where they handcuffed and blindfolded him and pushed him down to the floor. They drove Sulim S. to what he later found out was the ORB-2 premises. Sulim S. described the torture he endured there:

For the first five days they kept me blindfolded. I did not know what they wanted. They kept saying, “We know that you know, and you know that we know!” and when I asked what I was supposed to know, they tortured me. They put a gas mask on my face and would cut the airflow until I started suffocating. They repeatedly gave me electric shocks—my head was swinging back and forth; one discharge went through my tongue, and my tongue got all swollen and was falling out of my mouth.

They beat me mercilessly. They put me against the wall with my legs spread apart and kicked me on my privates—I later saw that the entire area in between my thighs was all black from bruises. They pulled my pants down and threatened to rape me.

I kept telling them, “Just kill me!” but they said, “No, we won’t kill you right away—we’ll do it slowly, and we will also rip your brother apart.” I felt like during these interrogations I was dying over and over again, and they would revive me to continue. Finally, after they realized I could not come up with anything, they offered me three crimes to choose from—a bombing of a bus, a killing of two policemen or a killing of one woman. But I refused.8

Sulim S.’s family learned about his whereabouts three days after his detention and hired a lawyer to represent him. About a week after Sulim S.’s detention, a group of armed men detained his brother, Salambek, and brought him to the ORB-2 facility. Salambek S. described his ordeal at ORB-2 to Human Rights Watch:

The men started beating me while we were still in the car, but did not explain where they were taking me and why. Then they put me into a room, and told me to tell them “everything.” I thought they were referring to a short period of time in 1999 when I helped to dig trenches in the city along with everybody else, but they  . . . said they were not interested in that—they wanted me to confess to bombings and killings. I said they must have mistaken me for someone else.

They attached wires to my fingers and ears, and started giving me electric shocks—I could not see the device, as they put a gasmask on my head, but heard the clicking sound. They pushed me against the wall and started beating me on the kidneys, and then threw me on the floor—I was lying on my stomach, and one of the men put his boot under my heart area, while [at the same time] another was sitting on my back. As other men pressed the pain zones on my legs I would twitch and the boot would press hard into my heart—I felt like my heart was stopping and couldn’t breathe.

They repeated these interrogations and beatings for several days, and then told me that if I did not confess, they would bring my wife and rape her in front of my eyes, and then do the same with me. They brought a club and said they would stick it up my ass.

I would rather die than be dishonored like that; it is just unthinkable in our culture—I told them I would confess to a bombing of a bus, and made up a story, coming up with the most unbelievable details. When I tried to take my confession back, they started torturing my brother in the adjacent cell, saying, ‘Do you hear? That’s your brother screaming.’9

After spending about 10 days in the ORB-2 holding facility, Salambek S. was transferred to the remand facility in Grozny, where some of his injuries sustained during interrogations were documented by a medical professional. Sulim S., who refused to sign a confession, spent a total of 25 days in the ORB-2 holding facility. Sulim said that upon transfer to the remand facility in Grozny, he was examined by a doctor who documented his injuries, including broken ribs, bruises on his legs and inner thighs, swollen hands and tongue, and burned ears.

Most of the charges against the two brothers were dropped, and both stood trial for “membership in illegal armed formations.” In August 2006, a court released both men under the applicable statute of limitations. Although the brothers told the judge they had been tortured in detention and the medical reports were entered into the case record, the court took no action to investigate the torture allegations.10

3 ORB-2 mainly covers the Chechen Republic, although in a few cases documented by Human Rights Watch residents of Chechnya arrested in other regions of the North Caucasus, such as Ingushetia, were also brought there.

4 See European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), “Public statement concerning the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation,” CPT/Inf (2003) 33, Strasbourg, July 10, 2006, (accessed November 4, 2006); Commissioner for Human Rights,  “Report by Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights, on his visits to the Russian Federation 15 to 30 July 2004 and 19 to 29 September 2004 for the attention of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly,” Comm DH (2005) 2,  Strasbourg, April 20, 2005, (accessed November 7, 2006).

5 Order of the Ministry of Interior of Russian Federation No 709, November 3, 2004, cited in: the Memorial Human Rights Center, “Official Illegal Prisons: A Mechanism of Forcing Confessions,” April 18, 2006, (accessed October 31, 2006). IVS is the Russian acronym for izoliator vremmengo zaderzhania.

6 SIZO is the Russian acronym for sledztvennyi izoliator.

7 The maximum sentence under article 208.1 (0rganization of an illegal armed formation) is seven years of imprisonment; the minimum sentence is two years of imprisonment. The maximum sentence under article 208.2 (participation in an illegal armed formation) is five years of imprisonment; the minimum sentence is six months of detention. The maximum sentence under article 222.1-4 (illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation, or bearing of firearms,) is eight years of imprisonment; the minimum sentence is six months of detention.

8 Human Rights Watch interview with Sulim S., Grozny, September 21, 2006.

9 Human Rights Watch interview with Salambek S. , Grozny, September 21, 2006.

10 Ibid.