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Russian military court convicts officer of conscript slavery in latest abuse case

[JURIST] [JURIST Europe] A Russian military court has convicted a senior officer in the country's elite missile corps [FAS backgrounder] of modern-day slavery and contracting out conscripts under his command for personal gain. Deputy Commander Vladimir Kontonistov has been banned from holding any command for three years and fined 56,000 rubles (approximately $1,987). Prosecutors are appealing the sentence as too weak.

Kontonistov's conviction is yet another incident of conscript abuse within a post-Soviet military that is poorly paid and suffers from low morale and underfunding. Following a long national history of military conscription [HRW backgrounder], current Russian law provides for a two-year mandatory draft, but most candidates manage to avoid this by bribery or doctors' certficates, leading to low-quality intake and frustrated officers. Many who are conscripted have to be forcibly detained [HRW backgrounder].

The Russian Defense Ministry [official website] says that in 2005 16 Russian soldiers died of bullying and some 256 committed suicide [MosNews report]. The Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees [advocacy website] claims that over 80% of abuse incidents go unreported, and those which are made public are generally disclosed by relatives, doctors or rights groups. The most recent high-profile incident took place on this past New Year's Eve, when Private Andrei Sychev was tortured and permanently maimed [RFE report] by his unit superiors at a Urals tank-training academy. Governmental investigation was slow as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov [official profile in Russian] initially considered the Sychev matter to be "nothing serious" despite the fact that it was brutal, resulting in gangrene and multiple amputations, and led to an uproar in the Russian press. Russian President Vladimir Putin [official profile] has since called the Sychev beating a terrible crime and has ordered the Ministry of Defense to co-operate in prosecutorial probe [RFE report]. Defense Ministry officials have announced that Chelyabinsk Armor Academy will be shut down. The Independent has more.

Angela Onikepe is an Associate Editor for JURIST Europe, reporting European legal news from a European perspective. She is based in the UK.

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