Hundreds of prisoners in a southern Russian penitentiary began a hunger strike on Sunday in retaliation to the brutal beating and death of a fellow inmate. Authorities claim that only 118 men have begun the hunger strike, accompanied by about five men who slashed veins on their arms. They also claimed that the men who cut themselves were in no danger.
The story gets a little more interesting when news outlets and activists began claiming a much higher number of protesters are participating in the strike. The Moscow Times states that about 900 prisoners have joined in on the strike, refusing the food offered by the prison. In a facility that houses 1,100 inmates, that number is certainly alarming and effective.
Activists in the Public Monitoring Committee claim that they were witness to some of the brutality practiced in the prison. The Moscow Times quotes Almira Zhukova about the state of the prison and the common practice of beating prisoners there:
Then we discovered the beatings; we found proof… It was terrifying. They beat [prisoners] till they were blue. All the rooms were covered in blood.
The high security prison in Salavat houses men that are considered to be serious felons. Although officials claim that Sergei Lasko, the man whose death sparked the uprising, suffered a heart attack, activists and prisoners remain adamant that the death was caused by merciless torture and beatings.
Authorities have also attempted to downplay the severity of the prison strike, stating that only about 100 prisoners refused food prepared by the prison. Although that number represents a very conservative estimate, even 10 percent of the prison population in such a high security facility presents a serious challenge to authority and has already drawn worldwide criticism of the prison system in Russia.
The hunger strike represents just one of many recent uprisings against the judicial and penitentiary system in Russia under Vladimir Putin. Last week it was announced that members of the dissident punk group, Pussy Riot, would remain in custody into 2013 awaiting a trial that continues to be postponed. Human Rights Watch has consistently commented on the lack of human rights in the justice system in Russia.
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