By Gilbert Reilhac
STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The Council of Europe on Thursday accused Russian authorities of inflicting electric shocks, asphyxiation and other tortures on prisoners in an effort to suppress an Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus.
Its report was released after Russia for the first time authorized the publication of findings gathered by the council's committee on torture on a 2011 trip to Chechnya, Dagestan and North Ossetia.
Russia is fighting an insurgency in the region by armed rebels aiming to establish an Islamic state in the mountainous and predominantly Muslim region.
The report by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) seemed to support human rights groups' assertions that regional governments turn a blind eye to abuses in the name of cracking down on the militants.
"To tackle the phenomenon of torture and other forms of severe ill-treatment, the relevant authorities - both at the republican and federal level - have first of all to acknowledge its existence," the report said.
"On the contrary, certain of the high-level interlocutors met during the visit, in particular at republican level, appeared to be in a state of denial."
The report released vivid details of individual cases, including those of one man in Dagestan who allegedly had electric shocks applied to his hands, tongue and genitals.
In Chechnya, another man alleged he was subjected to severe beatings, had boiling water poured over his feet and had to have one of his toes amputated after receiving severe electric shocks.
In a response to the report, published on the Council of Europe's website, the Russian Federation contested the claims.
"In 2010 and during the first six months of 2011, six criminal cases were initiated following reports about police officers using violence and illegal techniques against citizens in the Republic of Dagestan," the Russian statement said.
The CPT said coercive methods had been used against ordinary prisoners as well as suspected rebels.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia in 186 cases of abuses involving Chechnya alone, leading Moscow to pay thousands of dollars in fines as a result.
It also cited the use of secret detentions, as in the case of Islam Umarpashayev, a Chechen who was kidnapped, beaten and handcuffed to a radiator in a private residence last year, for a period of five months.
"In the vast majority of cases, when evidence of possible torture or other forms of ill-treatment emerges, the matter is dropped after a preliminary enquiry," the report said.
In a statement, the CPT's President Latif Huseynov welcomed Russia's decision to release the document, calling it a sign of openness that he hoped would endure.
"I am confident that this is the beginning of a new policy of the Russian Federation which will increase the impact of the Committee's work in Russia, to everyone's benefit," he said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Vicky Buffery; editing by Thomas Grove and Andrew Roche)