Tearful mothers of detainees have been camping for five days outside Lgov prison in southwest Russia where hundreds of prisoners have mutilated themselves and begun a hunger strike to protest against abuses.
Some 150 relatives and friends of the inmates have refused to leave the prison's surroundings and are spending the night in cars or tents on a street leading to the detention center, now surrounded by police.
Last Saturday night, more than 200 inmates slashed themselves with razor blades, and the self-mutilations continued the following day.
The number of injured on Friday had reached 437, according to a hospital registry consulted by Valery Borshchev, a human rights defender and ministry of justice expert.
Some 800 prisoners, or around half the population of the prison, are on a hunger strike, and 500 of them are already unable to stand, Boris Panteleyev, a representative from the For Human Rights association, said.
On Thursday evening, some 40 relatives of the detainees joined the hunger strike, according to For Human Rights.
"My son is 18, he was just transferred here from a minors' prison," at tearful Tatiana Nikitina, 39, told reporters. "I saw him the day before yesterday at a visit. They brought him to me, he could not stand up, he had to be supported. He could hardly breathe. His arms were bandaged up, he showed me his injuries."
"He said, `Mom, help us, they're humiliating us, we cut ourselves and we're on hunger strike.' I cried and said, `You should get out on July 22, just wait a bit, don't do anything stupid. He said `five people wanted to rape me, I cut my veins,'" she said.
Nikitina was informed by the director of the prison Yury Bushin that her son had been placed in an isolation cell. "And he told me: `We're going to kill your son.'"
Valentina Lamina, 50, was also waiting outside the prison anxiously in the heat.
"My son is 22, they beat him in prison from time to time," Lamina said. "I saw him on June 2, he was complaining. And yesterday too. His arms were bandaged up."
"He told me they wanted him to put on a red arm-band and betray his friends." The arm-band is worn by prisoners who collaborate with the prison guards.
"He said, `Kill me, my mother will pick up my corpse but I won't be a traitor. They beat me in front of the head of the prison until I lost consciousness.'"
The prisoners who do not want to collaborate are threatened with rape by prison staff, especially when they are young, Panteleyev said.
"Mom, we haven't eaten for three days, we haven't drank anything, except for those who are badly injured. We'll be on hunger strike until they sack the heads of the prison," Lamina's son told his mother.
The detainees' relatives are demanding the resignation of Bushin and his deputies Vitkor Reutov and Vladislav Dvoenosov. They accuse all three of participating directly in the abuses.
The prosecutor's office in Kursk region has charged Bushin's two deputies with abuse of power, according to the Russian prosecutor general's office but the head of the regional penitentiary service, Viktor Fedichev, told the relatives that no one would be sacked.