Russian inmate who leaked prison torture videos seeks asylum in France; The story in a nutshell

Russian prison torture and the leaked video of it by a former inmate are a matter of talk now. Belarus-born whistleblower Sergei Savelyev is seeking asylum in France after he was tortured and threatened for leaking video of rape and abuse in Russian prisons.

Sergey Savelyev, who has spent eight years in a Russian prison was secretly collecting videos of alleged torture and beatings of inmates. He was authorized to enter French territory to file his asylum application within eight days, said his lawyer to AFP.

The 31-year-old Belarusian now freely admits he was the whistleblower who handed over more than 1,000 videos to Russian human rights group Gulagu.net. He released shocking footage out of a jail in the central city of Saratov showing abuse in several jails, including one allegedly showing a male prisoner screaming while being raped with a broomstick. The video caused an outcry in Russia when it emerged online in the early days.

As per the BBC report, Sergey Savelyev avoids details but says his case was “sad and common”. He was sent to a jail in the Russian city of Saratov and was charged with notorious allegations of prisoner abuse. He alleges that he was severely beaten as soon as he arrived.

Later he was lucky to be spotted as someone who could use a PC and was brought into the prison officials to work in an administrative role. “It was much better than biding time between meals and trying to keep my head down,” he said.

Looking through video recordings from prison guards’ body cameras was his main duty. He soon realized that while many of the recordings were benign and simply documented the guards’ rounds, some appeared to show violent abuse of inmates and were deeply disturbing. His duty involved capturing the videos and deleting them but he said some videos were sent somewhere else, perhaps to higher levels.

Sergey Savelyev was released in February, fearing kidnapping or even death. After his release, he started sharing the videos with human rights activists, and later months he shared several files. The endemic nature of abuse within the prison system was recorded in the video which is a very sad thing to witness by anyone in this world, sources reported. 

Mr. Savelyev was convicted of a drug-related offense and sentenced to nine years in prison. Fearing the current situation and trying to escape from the allegations and threat,  Savelyev took a minibus from Russia into Belarus and then traveled via Tunisia to France. Once in the transit zone of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, he sought help from the police. 

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While working in the prison office, Mr. Savelyev also alleges he saw the numerous complaints that came in about the mistreatment of prisoners, which he says made him realize how widespread the abuse was. He said he never saw this kind of violent abuse in person, but the videos shocked him abruptly.

Some videos have been published by a Russian rights group, prompting an official probe and the sacking of several officials.  Russian authorities have said they have opened criminal investigations into alleged torture and sexual assaults in jails and fired several senior prison officials.