Russia has the world’s second-highest rate of incarceration, behind the United States. The United States has an even higher rate of pretrial detention, with jails full of poor people unable to afford bail, usually on charges involving drugs or violence. The difference is that Tom DeLay awaits money-laundering charges in freedom while Maxim Petlin, a city councilman in the city of Yekaterinburg, languishes in pretrial detention, accused of bribery. His supporters say his real crime is that he’s a liberal politician who is critical of the authorities.
Pretrial detention has been under scrutiny here since Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer who accused officials of a $230 million tax fraud, was charged by those same officials with the crime. He died on Nov. 16, 2009, at age 38 in Moscow’s Butyrka prison.
While he was in detention, investigators tried to force him to implicate his employer, Hermitage Capital, a Western investment fund. He refused and was denied treatment for pancreatitis and beaten before he died. Borshchev and his commission investigated Magnitsky’s death at Medvedev’s behest, but the findings went right to the officials who were implicated in the death.
Two prison doctors are being investigated in connection with Magnitsky’s death, not the officials who pursued him and dictated the conditions of his confinement.
Yakovleva, who became an activist after refusing to pay a bribe and spending seven months in jail, said that’s what happens across the country — complaints about abuse or corruption are automatically sent to the authorities involved.
“Who is the creator of this wonderful situation?” she asked rhetorically, saying it was put in place by the Bolsheviks in the 1930s to silence complaints about collectivization.
Two laws passed
In April 2010, Medvedev signed a law calling for bail or release on personal recognizance for economic crimes and, in January, signed another law stipulating that seriously ill detainees need not await trial in jail.
Yelena Panfilova, who monitors corruption as director of Transparency International in Moscow, said this month that corruption has grown more entrenched in Russia over the past decade. If businesspeople once gave bribes voluntarily, perhaps to get a permit faster, now payoffs have become required. Those who refuse to pay often find themselves in jail, despite the new laws.
“It’s in the hand of judges,” she said, “and they have other incentives.”
Judges don’t even pretend they’re independent, said Stanislav Dmitrievsky, an activist in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. “Those who tried are no longer judges. They’ve been disqualified.”
The country is run, he said, by making sure everyone is guilty of something. “Then they’re easy to manage.”
Borshchev and Lyubov Volkova, another member of the prison-monitoring commission, visited Baltimore jails in June, a tour arranged by the bilateral presidential commission, a vehicle of the reset of relations between the United States and Russia.
“What I liked about Baltimore was the good legal regime,” he said. “There’s not the arbitrariness we have here.”
The food and hygiene was far better than in Moscow, he said, but not all was perfect. “As we walked along, we could see someone on the toilet,” he said. “That’s a violation of European conventions.”
Volkova said some things have changed since the early days of capitalism in the 1990s, when business disputes were settled by picking up a gun and killing someone. Now they’re settled by getting an investigator to issue a warrant.
“Prisons are a tool for taking a business from an entrepreneur,” she said. “They’re destroying the middle class of Russia, while real criminals happily serve their sentences with rosy cheeks.”