The Russian police routinely torture people in custody in order to force them to confess, Human Rights Watch charged in a report Confessions At Any Cost: Police Torture in Russia .

The 196-page report, "Confessions At Any Cost: Police Torture in Russia," is based on a two-year study, including more than fifty interviews with torture victims in five regions across Russia. Dozens of lawyers, former police officers, judges, and others were also interviewed for the report.

"Torture is epidemic in Russia today," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "It doesn't matter whether the crime committed by the detainee is serious or not—in fact, it doesn't even matter whether the detainee actually committed the crime or not. All kinds of people may fall victim to this terrible human rights abuse."

Some Russian experts estimate that 50 percent of police detainees are subject to torture or ill-treatment.

The most common form of torture involves prolonged beatings, with punches, kicks, and blows from a nightstick commonly aimed at the victim's head, back, kidneys, legs, and heels.

Other forms of torture have nicknames among police. The "slonik," or "elephant," refers to the practice of asphyxiating a victim by putting a gas mask over his face and turning off the oxygen supply (the hose is thought to resemble an elephant's trunk). In the "lastochka," or "swallow," the victim's hands are handcuffed behind his back and hung from an iron bar with his feet off the ground, while he is beaten with a nightstick. In the "konvertik," or "envelope," the detainee is forced to sit for extended periods with his head between his knees and his hands tied to his feet, while being beaten.

The police also use electric shock. Former detainees describe a "cranking machine" similar to a field telephone, which sends an excruciating current via electrodes inserted in the prisoners' ears. Two people interviewed by Human Rights Watch jumped out the window of the police station and were seriously injured rather than be subjected to further electric shock.

Detainees are often sent to the "press-khata," or "press hut," where cellmates who receive privileges from the police are encouraged to beat or sometimes rape detainees to induce them to confess.

Police torture detainees suspected of minor crimes. Oleg Fetisov, a fifteen-year-old boy in Ekaterinburg, was beaten and nearly asphyxiated in 1996 for stealing a jacket from another schoolboy. Human Rights Watch also documents several cases in which victims died from torture.

Most torture victims are unable to get immediate access to medical professionals, let alone the official forensic medical experts without whose testimony torture is difficult to prove in a Russian court. As a result, medical evidence of torture is almost always lost.

Complaints about torture filed during a defendant's trial are usually dismissed without serious consideration. The procuracy, which is the state agency responsible for criminal investigation, is also responsible for protecting human rights—a clear conflict of interest in cases of torture.

Human Rights Watch is aware of the conviction of 25 police officers for torture or ill-treatment in seven criminal cases, over the course of six years.

"Nearly all cases of torture are going unpunished," said Roth. "The Russian government will not even acknowledge that the problem exists."

Roth urged the Russian government to establish a commission consisting of representatives of law enforcement agencies, human rights organizations, the government ombudsman on torture, and other experts, and to task this commission with drawing up a plan to combat torture.

Roth also called on the Russian government to institute a prompt judicial review of all detentions, so that judges can assess the lawfulness of the detention and the treatment received by the detainee. He also called on the government to reform the procuracy to ensure that policing and judicial tasks are performed by separate and independent bodies.

Roth urged Western government to take special care that no aid money be dispensed to units of security forces that are responsible for gross human rights abuse.

Four drawings of the various methods of torture are available for view here.

For Further Information:
Diederik Lohman in Moscow +7095 250-6852; mobile +7095 764-9538
Sasha Petrov in Moscow +7095 250-6852; mobile +7095 764-9538
Rachel Denber in New York +1 212 216-1266
Jean-Paul Marthoz in Brussels +32 2 732 2009 or + 32 2 736 7838