Vladimir Osechkin, the head of the Gulagu-NET! Human rights organization, talks about the revival of Gulags in Russia with the participation of companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft. – We are dealing with the 21st century Gulags. I’m afraid that many people in the world do not mind – says our interlocutor.
BiznesAlert.pl: What is the data on the use of forced labor in Russia by state-owned companies?
Vladimir Osechkin: We have information that the FSIN (Russian Federal Penology Service – ed.) employs forced labor of more than 100,000 convicts. Some of them work for the prisons ‘ own needs. The other part-carries out orders of state bodies and state corporations, as well as private companies. We know that thousands of convicts are involved in the manufacture of fittings, work with Metalworking, tailoring for oil and gas companies.
Are such actions in accordance with the constitution of the Russian Federation?
In Russia, the Russian Constitution stipulates that forced labor is prohibited. This means that you can not force a person to work in a job that he does not like. But in practice, the Constitution does not work and does not protect convicts. Similarly, the Russian Constitution stipulates that a person should not be subjected to torture and violence. But we publish weekly photos, videos and audio recordings, as well as documents that prove that in Russia torture is systemic and widespread in the police and the Federal penitentiary service. It is under the threat of torture and even rape that convicts are forced to perform the dirtiest work.
What is the role of companies like Gazprom and others from the energy sector?
Large companies such as LUKOIL, Rosneft, Gazprom, Bashneft and others will never report directly on their website that they exploit convicts as slaves. It’s obvious they’re not that stupid. But! We know for certain that through a network of small companies affiliated with state corporations, convicts ‘ labor is widely used for tailoring, infrastructure construction, digging pits, performing the dirtiest and most difficult work. It is obvious that state corporations pay a lot of money for contracts with performers. And those, in turn, sign state contracts with the Federal penitentiary service for the provision of labor. These are camouflaged forms of attraction to performance of a large volume of works in fact slave force when condemned or in General receive nothing, or receive scanty money which FSIN at them right there writes off for food, the contents, clothes. In this almost slave labor of the influential and corrupt people are earning huge condition. Security officials and lawyers of state corporations are well aware of this, as they employ a lot of former intelligence officers.
At the moment, we have a number of specific facts of ill-treatment of convicts, we know that many of them were tortured and beaten. The bulk of the convicts are intimidated. Their will is suppressed. All of them are afraid that if they complain, they will be even more tortured and beaten. All convicts are at risk, they face the threat of being sent to the torture chambers of the prison and torture zones, where they will be tortured, raped and “lowered”. There is a whole caste of humiliated convicts. For the 21st century, this is unacceptable. But it is a fact. Russian special services have subdued the bulk of the media, human rights activists and activists. Many people who live in Russia are afraid to get to the truth. Many people know these terrible facts, but they are afraid that they will come to them with searches and they will be arrested. I myself experienced this in September 2015, when the authorities staged harassment and repression against me. I had to leave Russia to preserve the freedom and independence of the state.
What are your expectations for Western countries and human rights organizations in this part of the world?
I believe that the attention of the international community, the attention of the West, politicians and human rights organizations can help. But it won’t be easy. The Russian authorities have been waging war against us for four years. On our website go to hacker attacks, controlled by the government, journalists and public figures allegedly writing against us is a lie. Victims of torture are intimidated and forced to give up their claims.
I have been repeatedly threatened with arrest or reprisal for my human rights activities. It is very difficult for us, our resources are modest. And the forces are unequal. My colleagues and I are doing what we can. But my forecasts are pessimistic. And my arrival in Strasbourg is probably the last attempt to draw Europe’s attention to torture and the revival of the Gulag in Russia. We are dealing with the Gulag of the 21st century. And I’m afraid many in the world are happy with that.
Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik