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Muslim inmates in Russian prison report abuse by pork in meals, prayer mat confiscation, and forced head-shaving, says human rights group

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Muslim inmates held in a penitentiary situated in Dimitrovgrad within Russia's Ulyanovsk Region are reportedly experiencing mistreatment and abuse at the hands of prison personnel. Five convicts from the facility informed human rights activists from the Civic Assistance Committee (Komitet Grazhdanskoe Sodeistvie) that they have been subjected to practices including forced head-shaving, confiscation of prayer mats and religious texts. The NGO highlighted that an attorney working with the committee conducted interviews with the inmates and subsequently filed a complaint with Russia’s General-Prosecutor’s Office regarding the identified violations.

In early June, these Muslim prisoners were taken to a bathing facility, where hair-cutting equipment is kept. They were then compelled to trim their beards to a length not exceeding the mandated 9 mm, and their head hair to a maximum of 20 mm. The detainees claim that the prison staff then removed the length attachments for the shavers, and insisted that they fully shave their hair and beards. “I refused to do this as it violates my rights. To which the prison officer replied that he was the law here,” one of the prisoners told the human rights activists. This reportedly led to a physical altercation where a Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) officer struck the convict on the neck with a shaving machine until he bled. In an attempt to draw attention to the rights abuses, the prisoner later stabbed himself between the ribs with a sharpened wire, with the wound extending close to 7 centimeters deep. He was later hospitalized and underwent surgery. The Civic Assistance Committee clarified that he was subsequently transferred to a different correctional facility.

The human rights report also highlights that prison staff play loud music during prayer sessions. One of the inmates has raised concerns about the addition of pork to meals, which compels Muslim prisoners to reject eating altogether.

According to the report, the overall conditions in the prison are deemed unbearable due to unsanitary cells. Inmates report issues of dampness, along with the presence of insects such as cockroaches, spiders, and centipedes.

This isn't the first instance where the Dimitrovgrad prison has drawn the attention of human rights activists due to cases of torture. In 2022, The Insider reported on detainees from the same facility going on a hunger strike as a protest against abuse by the penal colony's staff.

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