Waving Banners “Help Us Please,” Russian Prisoners Revolt

Over the weekend at a prison in Kopeysk, just outside the city of Chelyabinsk, roughly 250 inmates began a protest atop one of the complex's buildings, waving banners [ru] that begged “help us please” and complained of torture and extortion. Penal Colony 6 (known simply as “shestyorka”) has a history of prison abuse, and even Chelyabinsk Governor Mikhail Yurevich recently blamed [ru] the region's prison system for causing “an enormous number of suicides.” Described in the Russian media and blogosphere as a “bunt” (an uprising), Kopeysk's inmates have by all accounts refrained from actual violence. Instead, they have merely refused to come down from the roof of one of the prison's buildings. Many inmates have also declared a hunger strike.

Blogging for the online project Gulagu.net [ru] (“no to the Gulag”), Oksana Trufanova has reported from the ground in Kopeysk. (Trufanova coordinates the Chelyabinsk chapter of “Russkii Verdikt,” a nationalist organization dedicated to defending Russians charged with racist extremism.) Her first post [ru] about the prison story, published November 24, has almost 900 comments at this moment. Since then, Trufanova has documented skirmishes between anti-riot police and prisoners’ relatives outside the prison gates. She herself sustained an injury [ru] on Saturday, claiming that guards attacked her and a group of other civilians without provocation. Several videos circulating on YouTube (see below) feature men with bleeding head wounds, apparently the result of clashes with law enforcement, after venturing too close to the prison's entrance. In one video, viewers can see a car with a window shield nearly smashed through by police batons.


LiveJournal user Oleg Lurie has blogged several times about the situation in Kopeysk, also posting [ru] YouTube interviews with three past prisoners, each of whom claims to have been tortured during his incarceration in the Chelyabinsk oblast. Lurie has also criticized the work of Alexey Sevastianov, the regional government's human rights ombudsman. “Some ‘human rights defenders’ […] are trying to present [these skirmishes between police and prisoners’ relatives] as the planned act of malicious troublemakers,” Lurie complained on November 25.

Angering many, Sevastianov has endorsed [ru] police reports that the crowd outside the prison attacked guards with snowballs, bottles, and iron pipes. Chelyabinsk's human rights czar also disappointed many of the inmates’ supporters when he examined [ru] “Prisoner Georgii D” (whose rumored beating was key in instigating the current unrest) and declared that the inmate's body showed no signs of injury.

Screenshot of injured civilian outside Kopeysk prison gates, YouTube, video by parvidos, 25 November 2012.

Russian Twitter users have adopted the hashtag #ИК6бунт (“penal colony 6 bunt”) to mark posts about the Kopeysk uprising. In Moscow, a protest took place earlier today in support of the Chelyabinsk prisoners and “against torture in Russian jails.” (On Facebook and VKontakte, roughly 175 people RSVP'd to attend.) In advance of the demonstration, oppositionist Ilya Klishin mused on Facebook [ru] about the story's media coverage:

Обсуждения бунта в колонии Копейска (правильнее говорить акции неповиновения) обнажили ключевую, в общем-то, проблему. Мы остаемся кастовым, сословным, классовым обществом, наполовину архаичным, наполовину постмодернистским. И идея всеобщих гражданских прав для нас все еще остается революционной.

The discussion about the bunt in the [prison] colony in Kopeysk (it's more accurate to call it an act of disobedience) has laid bare a rather key problem: we've remained a caste-, class- society, half archaic and half postmodern. And the idea of universal civil rights is still a revolutionary one for us.

Writing on Facebook [ru], Grigory Melkonyants, the deputy director of Golos (an opposition-leaning election-monitoring organization), published a news story [ru] from the Chelyabinsk prison system's website, announcing that Penal Colony 6 had acquired a 3D flat screen television just days before the uprising. “This is the f—ing end,” Melkonyants joked, before adding, “File this under ‘a parallel reality.'”

While most reports now indicate that the crowd outside Penal Colony 6 has dwindled, some relatives are trying — and occasionally succeeding — to penetrate the prison walls. Identifying herself to journalists [ru] as a sister of one of the protesting inmates, Olga Belousova is one example of someone who snuck past guards and reached her brother inside. While this no doubt was a great emotional high for the Belousovs, the fact that civilians are indeed infiltrating the prison does complicate the narrative now popular among netizens that despotic police are arbitrarily and unnecessarily using violence against a law-abiding congregation of concerned kith and kin.


  • The author is mistaken (or lying-?) about our human rights center.
    “Russian Verdict” – volunteer human rights organization, not nationalist, not an extremist, not racist. We protect both Russian falsely accused of “extremism” and the representatives of other nations, such as the Chechens. Learn materiel.

    • agoodtreaty

      I’m surprised to see that you reject the nationalist label, given the wording of your organization’s own defining “kontseptsiia”:

      Мы считаем, что права человека есть не только у национальных и сексуальных меньшинств, но и у национального большинства – русских. Мы защищаем традиционные ценности нашего народа.

      We believe that human rights belong not just to national and sexual [gay] minorities, but also to the national majority – Russians. We defend the traditional values of our people.

      In addition to this, your website lists as “human rights resources” portals belonging to the Russian Social Movement (РОД), the Heroes of the Will (Герои воли), and the anti-Article 282 campaign, which is the most common criminal charge levied against extremist nationalists.

      That Russkii Verdikt has provided non-Russians with legal assistance is commendable, but I’m not sure I see how it fits into the organization’s charter.

      • That is your opinion, but it is wrong. We are for equal rights for all, we are against discrimination of any nations and peoples and all political opposition. Where is nationalism? You do stigma and labeling, without trying to understand the essence.

        • agoodtreaty

          If you’re not an openly nationalist organization, why do you link to partners that are? Why does your charter imply that Russians’ human rights are overlooked, but ethnic and gay minorities’ rights aren’t? Aren’t these the clarion calls of Russian nationalism?

          • ToyotaBedZRock

            Either way no one should be abused in prison.

          • We do not have official partners which have signed business agreements. We are not responsible for the activities and ideology of the structures that contribute to the placement of our products on the internet.

            “””Why does your charter imply that Russians’ human rights are overlooked, but ethnic and gay minorities’ rights aren’t?”””

            Because human rights organizations around the world have a specialization. Jewish human rights organizations do not protect the rights of the Palestinians, and the organizations of homosexuals do not protect the rights heterosexuals. Our specialization – the protection of civil rights and liberties of the political
            opposition, human rights protection of Russian and other indigenous peoples of Russia.

            “””Is this not the clarion call of Russian nationalism?”””

            We do not know what you mean by “calling Russian nationalism”? Nationalism many internal differences and species, no general calls for the nationalists not. In any case, we do not belong to nationalism, because we are not involved in politics and do not support to any ideology.

    • ToyotaBedZRock

      What is your option on gay/blue people?

  • ToyotaBedZRock

    Could you find a source not aligned with someone that appears to be pro racism?

  • […] prisoners in Penal Colony 6, in Kopeysk, near the city of Chelyabinsk, protested over the weekend, taking to the top of the complex’s buildings and waving banners reading “help us please” and […]

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