European rights court slams Russian jail conditions

10th January 2012, Comments 0 comments

Russia must reduce jail populations and scale back the number of pre-trial detainees, the European Court of Human Rights said Tuesday.

In a judgment aimed at improving Russia's maligned and severely overcrowded jail system, the court said prisoners had been subjected to inhuman treatment after they were allocated personal spaces scarcely larger than a phone booth.

"Detainees suffered inhuman and degrading treatment because of acute lack of personal space in their cells, shortage of sleeping places, limited access to light and fresh air and non-existent privacy when using the sanitary facilities," the court said.

In its judgment, the court said the problems were the result of "a malfunctioning of the Russian penitentiary system" and shoddy legal safeguards.

It cited pre-trial detention "without proper justification" and said Russia was breaching its obligation to guarantee trial within a reasonable timeframe.

In one case, inmate Sergey Ananyez spent more than three years in pre-trial detention with only two square metres (21.5 square feet) of personal space. His cell was designed for 13 people but sometimes housed up to 20 other inmates.

Ananyez had to eat and use the toilet with other inmates in the crowded cell looking on and was only allowed out of his cell for an hour a day, the court said.

Tuesday's ruling was a so-called "pilot judgment." These are issued when the court is considering multiple overlapping complaints of the same nature. More than 250 Russian jail-related cases are pending before the court.

Russia has three months to request a new hearing. If it does not, Moscow will have six months to draw up a binding timetable to adopt measures that would lead to better conditions.

Aside from reducing jail populations, the court said Russia must implement a raft of reforms. These included making sure toilets are shielded from other inmates, for pre-trial detention to be used in only the most serious cases and for the country to establish a better complaints system for prisoners.

Russia has been a member of the Council of Europe and its human rights court since 1996.

© 2012 AFP

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