Human rights activists within Russia are pushing for the creation of a Dadin List, which would sanction top Russian officials implicated in the detention and systematic torture of Ildar Dadin, an opposition activist.

Pictured: Ildar Dadin, the first person to be imprisoned under a controversial federal law that criminalizes repeated public protests. Photo: AFP / East News

The whereabouts of Russian opposition activist Ildar Dadin, who became the first person to be imprisoned under a controversial federal law that criminalizes repeated public protests, are now known, after nearly a month in which his fate was uncertain. He was finally found in a prison in the Altai Region. He had been transferred from a jail in the Republic of Karelia, where he experienced numerous and violent incidents of torture.

His story attracted a great deal of attention both inside and outside of Russia after the publication of his letter on the website of Meduza, an independent Russian media outlet now based in Riga. That letter, from Dadin to his wife, revealed an inconvenient truth about the Russian prison system: perennial human rights abuses, violence and severe torture. Dadin’s wife, Anastasia Zotova, a journalist and human rights activist, did her best to publicize the case to spread awareness of her husband’s plight and hold those responsible accountable.

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Thanks to the efforts of other activists and journalists, the story of Dadin reached even the American government. An important and symbolic move came from U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat – Maryland), who initiated the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russian officials involved in the alleged murder of Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption campaigner. Cardin published an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Nov. 17, 2016, in which he called on the U.S. to extend the Magnitsky Act to cover those Russian officials implicated in Dadin’s torture.

“We must support the embattled human rights defenders inside Russia who continue to face growing repression from the state,” Cardin wrote. “Ildar Dadin is one such example. It is our obligation to speak out on their behalf and pressure Russian human rights violators by using the Magnitsky Act to the fullest extent.”

Even though Zotova and other human rights activists forced the authorities to move Dadin to another detention facility, the long period of his transfer that took more than one month resulted in substantial concern about Dadin’s security and his life. Even though he was eventually found in an Altai prison, the very fact that his wife was not informed about his route and his conditions indicates that the prison system is flawed. At the same time, it reveals the negligent attitude of the authorities toward opposition activists.

However, Russia’s human rights ombudswoman Tatiana Moskalkova argues that Dadin’s transfer coincided with the New Year holidays in Russia and that’s why it took so much time to move him to  another prison. On Dec. 29, the transfer was interrupted to give prisoners an opportunity to celebrate a holiday dinner on New Year’s Eve, according to Moskalkova and officials from Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). In addition, Moskalkova told journalists that Russian legislation forbids revealing any information about the route of transferred prisoners and the location of the new region where prisoners are being moved.

Dadin was moved from a prison in the Republic of Karelia to one in the Altai Region. The distance between them is more than 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) and takes two to four days by car or train, according to different estimates, not a full month, which is the time that Dadin’s transfer took (it started on the early December 2016 and ended on Jan. 8). That’s why Dadin’s wife as well as human rights activists have questioned the claims of the FSIN officials.  

Torture is commonplace to silence opponents

Lev Ponomaryov, the executive director of the For Human Rights movement, argues that a great of secrecy about transferring prisoners in Russia is commonplace. “When a prisoner is moved [to another jail], the route is not revealed and, in general, this is normal. It is the rules of secrecy,” he told Russia Direct. “But in this case [of Dadin], it took a lot of time.”

Ponomaryov describes the story of Dadin as a typical example of all prisoners in Russia facing violent torture. “This system of violence has been existing there [in prisons] for many years and we are now researching and revealing new cases. Currently, we have about 20 testimonies from prisoners who were in the same jail where Dadin served his term."

Karelia is one example where prisons have turned into torture chambers, but such a system is not common for all Russian prisons. Nevertheless, violence and torture seem to be increasingly permitted as a way to intimidate certain prisoners, according to Ponomaryov.

The Dadin List

Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of the social network, firmly believes that the Dadin case has become an important litmus test for the entire prison system of modern Russia. According to him, some law enforcement agencies rule the country in the style of the notorious NKVD, the Soviet-era security and secret police body [The NKVD was the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, which was formed during the beginning of Stalin’s regime – Editor’s note]. Osechkin argues that the Dadin case might further blacken Russia’s reputation abroad, given the fact that his story has attracted the attention of some Western politicians and media outlets, including the BBC.

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“The Dadin List is looming on the horizon, with sanctions expected to be imposed on all those involved in his prosecution and torture,” Osechkin said. He added that Dadin is attempting to use his case as a way to attract as much attention to this practice as possible. In fact, it was a big risk for his own life.

“This should be taken into account,” said the human rights activist. “And it is not enough for the authorities to create a favorable environment for Dadin now. It is necessary to tackle the problem of torture with drastic measures if the authorities would not like to be accused of covering up systemic and large-scale torture and violence.”

St. Petersburg human rights campaigners echo Osechkin’s view. They conducted a series of one-person protests in support of political prisoners in Russia. They also believe that the Dadin List should be created to restore justice. Thanks to these activists, as well as the efforts of his wife, Dadin has become popular among opposition activists for his moral integrity and stamina. This might give another chance for Russia’s protest movement. 

“Although Dadin was not the leader of the protest movement and didn’t want to be one, the very system is turning him into such a leader,” said human rights activist Ponomaryov.