Moscow, Aug 7 (IANS) Russian authorities are considering tougher punishment, including extra prison time, for inmates who use mobile phones, RIA Novosti reported Tuesday.
According to the Izvestia daily, an official from the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service said tougher punishment for mobile phone use was needed to maintain discipline and order inside prisons.
However, rights activists say the move is aimed at stemming a stream of complaints from prisoners who use phones to report beatings and other abuses in prisons.
Russian prisons currently prohibit mobile phones. A prisoner caught with a phone faces up to 10 days in solitary confinement. But prison officials say that has not been an effective deterrent.
Despite regular monitoring, prisons are literally flooded with phones.
Prison employees complain that inmates can use the phones to tip off accomplices concerning investigations, to help destroy evidence and to intimidate witnesses.
Groups that work with prisoners say the phones are a lifeline for inmates.
"Almost all the complaints we get are via phones and the internet, so we even opened a special 'hot line'," said Vladimir Osechkin, head of one such group, Gulagu.net.
He said many incidents occurred in July at penal colonies in Tula, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Bashkortostan and Karelia.
"In all cases, convicts reported beatings and abuses by phone and attached photos to their complaints," Osechkin said.
"If they had complained by mail, there would have been no evidence: all their bruises would have disappeared by the time an investigation began."
A bill to authorise mobile phone use by prisoners is already being discussed by the government.
The measure will also combat corruption, he said, by taking the illegal phone trade out of the hands of crooked jailors, whereas stiffer penalties for phone use will only increase the price they collect from inmates.
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