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Former inmate who exposed torture in Russian jail seeks asylum in France

By RFI
Europe © Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP
OCT 19, 2021 LISTEN
© Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP

The former inmate behind a video leak showing alleged rape and torture inside a Russian prison said he could no longer keep the information to himself, speaking to AFP from France where he is now seeking asylum.

Belarus-born whistleblower Sergei Savelyev "was authorised to enter French territory to file his asylum application within eight days", his lawyer, Aude Rimailho, told AFP on Monday evening.

Savelyev fled after his release from prison in February, fearing kidnapping or even death.

He smuggled shocking footage out of a jail in the central Russian city of Saratov showing abuse in several jails, including clips showing prisoners urinating on other inmates, as well as graphic images of rape.

Some of the harrowing videos -- he smuggled more than 1,000 in all -- have been published by Gulagu.net, a Russian rights group, prompting an official probe and the sacking of several officials.

Torture and sexual violence inflicted on inmates have long been systemic in Russia's vast penitentiary system, prison monitors say, but the videos have cast new light on such abuses.

Access to servers
Speaking exclusively to AFP, Savelyev said he had no choice but to speak up.

"Psychologically, it's very difficult to keep things like this to yourself. What else can you do once you know?" the 31-year-old told AFP on Sunday at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Convicted for drug trafficking, Savelyev served 7.5 years in jail and was released early for good behaviour, helped in part by his work as an IT expert.

His job as an IT maintenance officer gave him access to the prison's internal server and those of other jails, where he found several videos.

He saved them on USB sticks that he hid near the prison exit and collected on the day of his release.

Fear to return
Savelyev went back to Belarus, then to Turkey and to Tunis, before landing in Paris late on Friday where he applied for asylum.

He still has many other videos he collected in jail, but he refused to say what he plans to do with them.

He says he now fears reprisals from the Federal Prison Service (FSIN) and the Russian security service, the FSB.

His lawyer Rimailho says there are "serious fears" he could be subject to forced disappearance or even execution if he goes back to Minsk, where authorities have close ties to Russia.

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