Numerous videos of horrific torture in Russian prisons are unlikely to lead to the resignation of the government.
It would, however, not be an exaggeration to state that it is Russia’s biggest state scandal in decades.
On October 6, Gulagu.net began publishing video materials of torture at a jail in the Saratov region.
It showed prison officials and other state security personnel inflicting inhumane sexual assaults on inmates to force them to act as informers and collaborators.
Many outsiders might ask, why the revealed torture was mainly sexual in character.
Those familiar with the informal “rules” and the hierarchy of the prison system in the former Soviet countries know that sexual assault denigrates a prisoner to the lowest level in the prison world.
Founder of Gulagu.net, Vladimir Osechkin, explained in a detailed interview with Maxim Shevchenko that in Russia, prisoners who are known to be sexually assaulted become untouchables.
They are not allowed to eat with others or even touch dishes used by other prisoners.
State authorities in most former Soviet countries frequently threaten prisoners, often political prisoners, with sexual assault to extract fabricated confessions.
While the reaction of the Russian public was understandably critical of the authorities, the government’s response is still ongoing and is not yet complete.
After the video leaks five Russian prison officials were fired and the authorities opened several criminal cases.
Shevchenko, who interviewed Gulagu.net founder Osechkin, is himself a prominent activist against torture in Russian prisons.
He is known to champion the rights of Muslim prisoners as well in Russia.
While interviewing Shevchenko, Osechkin expressed doubt that high ranking officials will face any serious consequences for what has been revealed.
The response of Russia’s government-affiliated media has been mediocre at best.
The English language media response was not much better.
Even though Russia Today published a series of somewhat critical articles about the revelations, some could be used as examples of how not to conduct a spin or propaganda.
One RT article titled, Russia’s latest prison torture scandal, like Guantanamo, shows the worst human rights violations happen out of sight, out of mind, was full of what whataboutery logical fallacies.
By mentioning irrelevant cases of torture in the Republic of Georgia and the US-run Guantanamo Bay torture facility, the article also inadvertently white-washed torture practiced by Russia’s political rival, the US.
While most governments plead ignorance when torture is revealed, cases like the one currently exposed in Russia or Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and Abu Ghraib are carried out with full knowledge of high-ranking officials.
At the political level, the latest damning revelations will become a key battle cry by opponents of Vladimir Putin’s government and he will find it difficult to sweep them under the rug.
Nevertheless, it is too early to conclude that Putin’s government is doomed due to the prison torture revelations.
Putin has proved to be a shrewd political tactician in Russia’s domestic political arena.
He might go after several high-ranking officials responsible for torture to save face and maintain his government’s legitimacy.