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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three prison guards have been detained for beating up an inmate in a case that highlights Russia's failure to stamp out brutality by law enforcement officers more than a decade after Vladimir Putin rose to power.
Russia's prison authority took action after video footage appeared on the Internet showing men in uniform hitting and kicking a prisoner who has his hands tied behind his back and his trousers down.
Some of the violent footage, in which the inmate's pleas for mercy are ignored after he falls to the floor, was shown on Russian television on Thursday.
Russia's human rights ombudsman said such abusive treatment has become almost "routine" and needed the government's urgent attention because it discredited and weakened the state.
The prison authority said the inmate had behaved "extremely provocatively", disobeyed orders and refused to exchange civilian clothes for a prison uniform at the start of a 3-1/2 year jail sentence for robbery and assault.
Acknowledging the guards at a prison in the southern city of Novocherkassk had used excessive force and violated the prisoner's rights, it said three guards had been detained and three others were under investigation.
"The suspects, both simultaneously and taking turns, delivered multiple blows to the convict's head and body with their hands and feet," Valery Chekryshev, a senior regional investigative official, told on state television.
Reports of people being mistreated in custody are still frequent, six months into Putin's third, six-year term as president. He was first elected president in 2000.
"This kind of treatment of people in custody is becoming something like the routine in our country," the human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, told state-run Rossiya-24 television.
In one particularly brutal case, human rights activists say Sergei Nazarov, an unemployed man of 52, died in March after being beaten by police officers and sodomized with a champagne bottle during questioning over a minor offence.
Such reports have increased demands for Russia's leaders to carry out reforms to strengthen the rule of law that were promised by Putin's protégé Dmitry Medvedev, whose four-year presidency ended in May.
Police, prison guards and other law enforcement officers who abuse people in custody "discredit the state, and thus weaken it", Lukin said.
The trial of three members of the Pussy Riot punk band over an anti-Putin protest in a church last February has also renewed criticism over Russia's justice system, which human rights activists say is open to political manipulation.
More than 700,000 Russians are behind bars and rights activists regularly complain of poor living conditions, cases of torture, beatings and disease in prisons.
Allegations of abuse in jail are also in the spotlight following a protest by about 250 inmates at a prison in the Ural Mountains town of Kopeysk on Sunday.
Human rights activists said the inmates demanded an end to beatings, humiliation and demands for bribes. Prison authorities said the only demand they made was for the release of fellow inmates from a punishment cell, and that eight police were wounded trying to disperse a crowd of relatives outside.
International concern was also fuelled by the 2009 death in pre-trial detention of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who said he was being punished by the same officers he accused of stealing $230 million through fraudulent tax refunds.
The United States is preparing to pass legislation to "name and shame" Russian human rights violators as part of a broader bill dropping Cold-War era trade restrictions.
Magnitsky said he was denied the medical attention he needed over almost a year in jail and the Kremlin's own human rights council said he was probably beaten to death.
Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alison Williams