Don’t get arrested in Russia whatever you do

This advice is often ignored, which adversely affects life expectancy statistics. For, just like under Stalin, arrest in Russia increasingly means death.

So far this year 169 people have died in police custody, and we still have two months left. The most widespread diagnosis is heart failure, suggesting that crime attracts many Russians suffering from poor cardiac health.

Some diagnoses are more interesting than that. They range from defenestration to insides ruptured by a champagne bottle shoved where the sun doesn’t shine.

This week’s example of the former is a fraud suspect who fell from the ninth floor of a remand prison in Rostov. I’ve only heard of one champagne party, Russian style, but, when all is said and done, the actual technique is immaterial. It’s the thought that counts.

I’d also like to reassure those who bemoan the state of public health in Russia, especially its cardiac aspect. Granted, it’s rather poor even – and this is saying a lot – by comparison with the NHS.

Yet those dying in police stations don’t really suffer coronaries and strokes. In case you haven’t yet guessed, they are tortured to death.

That’s what happens when a country is so humane as to ban capital punishment. Law enforcement has to bypass the law it’s supposed to enforce and exterminate those vermin off the books.

Or perhaps this theory doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny. After all, one doesn’t hear of many such cases in Western Europe, where there is no death penalty either.

But, in case you haven’t noticed, Russia isn’t Western Europe. She has her own legal, or rather illegal, tradition, and didn’t Vlad Putin say that Russia must tread her own path in life?

Let’s not be beastly to the Russians though. They may not have boasted too many Magna Cartas or Bills of Rights in their past, but they too try to do things by law.

To prove that, the Duma has just passed the first reading of what in anti-Putin circles is nicknamed ‘the sadists’ law’. The vote was 240 to 59, which in the West would be a landslide but in Russia constitutes a major parliamentary revolt.

Russian leaders are used to enthusiastic unanimity, and Vlad must be upset about the 59 holdouts. Who do those MPs think they are? What’s wrong with letting prison staff torture inmates who step out of line?

That’s the essence of the new bill. Should it pass into law, warders will be allowed to use electric shock, beatings and other forms of torture to maintain discipline. Champagne bottles aren’t mentioned specifically, but no law can anticipate every eventuality. There has to be some room left for private initiative.

As the Magnitsky case shows, none of this is to say that prisoners aren’t already being tortured, often to death. But warders who either kill prisoners personally or order other inmates to do so on their behalf are at present violating the law.

That is counterproductive, for ideal Russian citizens are thereby criminalised simply for doing their job. For the moral health of the nation, they must be allowed to do legally what they’re already doing illegally.

It has to be said that even in Western countries prison administration isn’t the kind of profession that typically attracts Tolstoyan preachers of non-resistance to violence. Our warders too must have their share of sadists.

That’s why civilised countries ruled by law introduce measures curbing such people’s natural tendencies. The common premise is that prisoners have inviolable rights, just like everybody else. They may have broken the law, but they’re still entitled to its protection.

In Russia even everybody else is somewhat bereft of rights. And as to prisoners, they are fair – soon to become legal – game.

A Russian warder will soon become a law unto himself. It’ll be up to him to charge a prisoner with breaking the rules, sentence him to torture and administer the punishment. Judge, jury and executioner come together in one breast. Bring on the truncheon and cattle prod, tell the morgue to stand by.

In parallel with the sadists’ law, another proposal under parliamentary rubber-stamping discussion is to ban NGOs designated as ‘foreign agents’ from monitoring human rights in prison.

No matter how dirty the linen, it won’t be washed in public or, truth to tell, at all. Lock up, beat up and shut up seems to be the order of the day.

The upshot of it all is as simple as truth itself: if you plan Russia as your next holiday destination, don’t get arrested there – not even for jaywalking. You may live longer.

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