By Paul Goble
The Duma deputy who earlier drafted the law imposing life sentences on anyone convicted of recruiting terrorists is now in the final stage of preparing one that would establish separate Guantanamo-style prisons in Russia so that extremist radicals would not be able to recruit other inmates to their cause.
Adalbi Shkhagoshev, a member of the Duma security committee from Kabardino-Balkaria, says that such an arrangement is necessary because there are between 2,000 and 4,000 Islamists in Russian penal institutions alongside other prisoners convicted of ordinary crimes whom they often recruit into radical cells (svpressa.ru/society/article/192047/).
In Russian prisons, it is impossible to restrict such contacts, the deputy says; “and therefore we propose to create one or two prisons specially for those convicted of violating anti-terrorist laws.” Doing so would bring Russia into line with what other countries are doing, including the US with its Guantanamo prison.
According to Shkhagoshev, ten to fifteen percent of prisoners who are confined with radicals become members of their groups after they finish their sentences. A decade ago, that wasn’t so serious because there were only a few hundred extremists behind bars; but now there are thousands. The problem has grown, with many now talking about “‘prison jamaats.’”
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Pavel Chikov of the Agora Human Rights Organization says that such arrangements could be made without changing the law but that given Russia’s size, having only two such special prisons will be a problem because Russian law requires that prisoners live near their homes, something that reduces recidivism.
There is another and even larger problem, he suggests. There are all kinds of people convicted of extremist crimes in Russia. How will penal authorities manage a situation in which there are simultaneously groups of Islamist radicals and neo-fascist nationalists, neither of whom has much use for the other.
Another expert also has doubts. Dmitry Agranovsky, a Russian attorney, says that the whole idea is “an absolutely unwise proposal” in that it violates existing law because it treats those convicted of this set of crimes in a fundamentally different way than those convicted of others and is thus discriminatory.
Moreover, the proposal ignores that the penal authorities have experience in keeping certain groups apart, such as former policemen and criminals they may have put behind bars, Agranovsky says. They can address the problem agitating Shkhagoshev without adopting a new law.
And, he asks, why does the Duma deputy think that the American experience with Guantanamo is worth copying? After all, it has been “condemned by almost everyone, including Russia. We should we make use of the worst models of the West world? We don’t need to stand in one dock with these Americans.”