Alexei Navalny is threatened with new dangers in the prison camp after the attack on him with the chemical agent Novichok. The prominent critic of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin is said to spend at least two years and eight months in one of these dreaded prisons.
She is afraid for the 44-year-old’s life, said the human rights activist Olga Romanova from the prisoner aid organization Russia Behind Bars (Rus Sidjashschaja) after the judge’s verdict. Russia’s penal camps are notorious for brute force, torture and death.
Even parts of the Russian government compared the “inhuman” conditions with the Gulag – the penal camps in the days of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (1879-1953).
Torture, beatings, deaths
Many celebrities have reported on their experiences there, such as the Putin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent many years in a penal colony and is campaigning for Navalny’s release. He described it as a courageous step that the opposition member returned to Russia despite the threat of imprisonment after he had recovered from the poison attack in Germany. The former oligarch, who once fell out with Putin, also said that Navalny could still have years of imprisonment due to further criminal proceedings.
“Torture, beatings and deaths” were part of everyday life in the prison camps, reported the action artist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova from the Moscow punk band Pussy Riot. She and her bandmate Maria Aljochina were sentenced to two years in a prison camp in 2012 for protesting against Putin in a punk prayer in a church. In her book “Instructions for a Revolution” Tolokonnikova told soberly and in haunting pictures of the slave-like exploitation in the penal system.
Around 500,000 people in prisons
According to the authorities, around half a million people are in prison in Russia. Nowhere else in Europe are there more people behind bars according to prisoner statistics from the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a member, when it comes to the number of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. In the largest country in the world by area, charges almost always mean a guilty verdict.
Political prisoners like Navalny also come to these prison camps – from the perspective of human rights activists, often not because of real crimes, but because of their anti-government stance. The activist Tolokonnikova, for example, experienced working days as a seamstress of police uniforms in the “IK-14” camp in Mordovia from 7.30 a.m. to 0.30 a.m. – with only one day off a month. Systematic lack of sleep, bad food, cold and dirty cells should break the prisoners as quickly as possible, as she held. According to official information, wages are less than four euros per day.
“Hundreds of people with HIV worked 16 hours a day and destroyed what was left of their immune system. They were taken to the camp hospital to die so that their corpses would not spoil the colony statistics, ”Tolokonnikova noted.
How brutal things can get in the prison camps was described early on by the Nobel Prize laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) in his work «The Gulag Archipelago». But even 30 years after the end of the communist tyranny, according to human rights activists, nothing has fundamentally changed. The Memorial organization collects eyewitness accounts. Even in documentaries, survivors often tearfully tell of arbitrariness and draconian punishments, of rape, hunger and epidemics.
“There is no longer any security for him in the camp”
The Kremlin-critical newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported several times that relatives of brutally abused or even killed prisoners repeatedly pleaded with President Putin to take action against “sadistic prison guards”. But lawyers, human rights activists, the organization Russia without Torture (Rossija bes Pytok) and Russia behind bars complain that these complaints usually have no consequences for the aforementioned tormentors.
Either way, the Putin opponent Navalny is facing hard times – he is separated from his wife Julia and their two children for years. Prison law allows him about six short and four longer visits per year in a “general regime camp”. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, there have recently been reports of restrictions on rights from many camps.
Appeal rejected: Navalny was sent to a prison camp for several years(00:29)
The danger in the camp is also great because a system of corrupt and criminal networks and a lack of surveillance mean that crimes are more difficult to solve, according to experts. After the controversial verdict against Navalny, human rights activist Romanova said that he was still under close surveillance by staff and video cameras in the remand prison. But if he is transferred to the camp there is no longer any security for him. (SDA)
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