In mid-April, the editors of ProVladimir sent an inquiry to the regional Public Oversight Commission, which is tasked with monitoring human rights in places of detention, i.e. prisons and colonies. Alexey Navalny’s complaints about detention in the Pokrov colony number 2 were an indirect reason, but we were also concerned about the closed nature of the community watchdogs.
In April, we repeatedly tried to call the hotline number listed on the PMC page on the FSIN website, but no one answered the phone. And from the materials published on the results of inspections of correctional institutions, it is impossible to draw conclusions about the prisoners’ complaints and the effectiveness of the work of community members – such reports are written in general phrases along the lines of “we visited, we checked, we discussed”.
ProVladimir journalists prepared 10 questions for the PMC – about whether the statistics of complaints is kept, how many of them were received last year, what difficulties prisoners face, whether the problem of torture is relevant for regional institutions of the Federal Penitentiary Service, how the schedule of visits to prisons and colonies is formed and so on. We also asked them to comment on whether their personal attitudes toward convicts could affect the impartial performance of their duties (as a result, commission member Yuri Belokrylin said that he did not trust Alexei Navalny and had a negative attitude toward him).
The editors have not heard back from the PMC, even though more than a month has passed. Commission secretary Ekaterina Kovalevskaya told our correspondent by telephone that an email request had been received and sent to Vyacheslav Kulikov, the PMC chair. But he also said in a telephone conversation that he had received nothing.
The final chord in this story, apparently, will be explanations from the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, which approved the composition of the Vladimir regional PMC in the fall of 2019. We asked the press service of the OP whether the duties of the supervisory commission include interaction with the media, how it should be carried out and what measures can be taken if this does not happen.
In the response from the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, it was clear between the lines that community activists owe no one anything and no one can influence them:
“In accordance with the Federal law of June 10, 2008 #76-FZ “On public control over observance of human rights in places of forced detention and on assistance to people held in places of forced detention”, public control and assistance to people held in places of forced detention shall be based on principles of voluntariness, equality and legality.
The legislation provides for full independence and autonomy (according to the regional principle) of public monitoring commissions. The Public Chamber of the Russian Federation does not interfere with the activities of Public Observation Commissions (PMCs) and does not assess the legality of their actions. However, the Public Chamber welcomes a constructive dialogue with the media and coverage of their activities”.
It appears that the official PMC in the Vladimir region is supposed to exist and monitor the observance of prisoners’ rights. But in fact, it is only a nominal public body, whose members sometimes visit prisons in order to publish formal reports on the website of the Federal Penitentiary Service. At the same time, the commission is not controlled by anyone and there is no sense in asking it for the results.
In addition, the term of office of the public supervisory commission is three years, which means that new members will be approved in the fall of 2022. The members of the new commission will hopefully include at least a few activists, who are not interested in being convenient for the Federal Penitentiary Service and who are willing to talk about the problems that prisoners are likely to have.