IN Russia has penal camps with different regimes, from ordinary camps to special penal colonies. Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to two and a half years of forced labor in a general penal camp. These camps do not fall into the worst category, but are still a legacy of the system of the famous Soviet Gulag, writes DW.
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Most camps are located in hard-to-reach places, usually far from any civilization. This also applies to the living conditions in them.
“People break mentally there”
“One cannot imagine the unimaginable conditions in which people have been held there for years,” said Pyotr Kuryanov, who is committed to protecting the rights of prisoners.
“There one gradually loses one’s mind,” he added.
Kuryanov knows from personal experience what he is talking about. He himself was in such a camp, and the time spent there left deep traces.
“The worst in these camps are not the walls, the barbed wire or the observation towers. The worst are the barracks where the campers live. One has no personal sphere,” Kuryanov said.
“These are dormitories with dozens of bunk beds,” said Olga Romanova, who founded an organization to help detainees. Both showers and toilets are open and visible from anywhere in the camp. The same applies to the washing rooms. It is a luxury when there are no showers in the camp at all. Often the campers only have sinks, says Romanova.
Kuryanov also explains that the law of violence rules in the camps – both physical and mental, both between the prisoners themselves and on the part of the guards. The slightest occasion is enough – for example, an unbuttoned garment or a supposedly unsent greeting to impose a penalty.
“It’s an endless nightmare – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for years,” Kuryanov said.
“Most people who fall into this system, inherited from the Soviet Gulag, are mentally broken,” Kuryanov added. And Olga Romanova adds: “Almost nothing has changed in the daily routine in recent decades. Waking up at 6:00 in the morning with loud music. Then making the beds and washing. Morning check, then exercise – regardless of outside temperatures.” .
Then everyone goes to breakfast, where a piece of bread with margarine and porridge of disgusting quality awaits them. Each prisoner earns only 80 cents a day for food, the human rights activist explains.
In the insulator
After breakfast, everyone goes to work together in the camp – to the assembly line or in the sewing workshop. Then there is a short lunch break. The food is served in aluminum plates. No forks or knives are used, everything is eaten with aluminum spoons. Whoever hides a piece of bread in his pocket risks being sent to solitary confinement, says Olga Romanova. And that means days, weeks or even months in a cold naked single cell.
The working day usually lasts until dinner. There are only an hour or two of free time left until bedtime. In most camps there is a library, a club and a common living room with a TV that can only be watched on state television.
Visits by lawyers are difficult, but still possible.
“It is more difficult for a family member to visit you. They have the right to visit once a month, and the conversation takes place through a glass wall over the phone. The meeting lasts a maximum of four hours,” Romanova said. In theory, campers are allowed to be visited for up to three days at least every three months. But the rooms provided for this purpose are few and it is very difficult to harm yourself. And the camp leadership used this fact as a means of putting pressure on the detainees.
In view of the public interest in Navalny’s fate, the guards of the camp will probably refrain from using violence, Olga Romanova believes. But otherwise in Russian camps, death is a frequent guest: “A person can fall from a ladder or get involved in a conflict with another prisoner who just stabs him. Such things often happen, “Romanova said.
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