Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Russia: Penal colonies like labor camps. What awaits Alexei Navalny?


  • Navalny, who returned to Russia after an August poisoning attempt, was expressly sentenced to a penal colony where he is to spend almost three years
  • Pussy Riot activist said that she had been working as a seamstress for police uniforms from 7.30am to 0.30am with only one day off each month
  • Systematic sleep deprivation, insufficient meals, cold and dirt are reported to break inmates
  • Human rights defenders are concerned about Navalny’s safety after he is transferred from pre-trial detention to a penal colony
  • More information can be found on the Onet.pl home page

After an attempt to poison Alexei Navalny with a Nowiczok, further threats await. A well-known critic of the Kremlin is to spend two years and eight months in a penal colony. Human rights activist Olga Romanowa from Russia Behind Bars says she is afraid for his life. Russian penal colonies are known for violence, torture and deaths of inmates.

Even some representatives of the Russian authorities compare the inhuman conditions in the penal colonies with those in the infamous labor camps – penal camps during the Stalinist era. What is experienced there has already been told by other prominent opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent four years in a penal colony, said that Navalny’s decision to return to Russia, where he was threatened with arrest, was bold. He also warned that Nawalny could face additional years in prison from other criminal proceedings against him.

Modern Slavery

– Torture, beatings and deaths are commonplace in penal colonies – said Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, an activist from the Pussy Riot group. In 2012, she was sentenced, together with the other artist of the collective, to two years in a penal colony because their group protested in a punk performance against Putin in one of the churches.

In her book The Instruction of the Revolution, she spoke in a factual and convincing manner about the slavery-like system of exploitation in prisons in Russia. Official figures show that there are about half a million people behind bars in this country. Council of Europe statistics show that nowhere else in No more people are imprisoned in Europe per 100,000 inhabitants.

Political prisoners also go to penal colonies. According to human rights defenders, not because of the actual crime, but because of anti-government activities. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who was sent to the IK-14 camp in the Republic of Mordovia, says that as a seamstress of police uniforms, she happened to work from 7.30am to 0.30am with only one day off each month.

Systematic sleep deprivation, insufficient meals, cold and dirt in the cells were to help break the rebellious inmates – she reported. The salary for work is less than EUR 4 per day. “Hundreds of people suffering from HIV worked 16 hours a day, wiping out the remnants of immunity. When they died, they were taken to camp hospitals so that they would not spoil the statistics of a given colony” – she wrote in her notes.

After her release, at the end of 2013, Tolokonnikova founded the law zone aid organization. As she said in an interview with the German press agency dpa, she is mainly involved in the interests of women who experienced domestic violence for a long time and then murdered their husbands while defending their own lives.

Families are begging Putin

How brutal life in penal colonies can be, was described long ago by the Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book The Gulag Archipelago. But according to human rights defenders, even 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, little has changed in principle. The Memorial organization collects reports from witnesses. Former prisoners talk about lawlessness and draconian punishments, rapes, hunger and disease. Novaya Gazeta, which is critical of the Kremlin, has repeatedly described cases of families of inmates who begged President Putin to do something with the sadistic guards.

But, according to human rights organizations, these appeals go unanswered.

Aleksei Navalny is facing difficult times. For years, he will not see his wife Julia and his two children. The regulations allow for six short and four long family visits per year, but there are reports that these privileges have recently been reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Human rights defender Olga Romanowa adds that it is very difficult to explain crimes in the camp due to the corruption and criminal network, as well as the lack of monitoring. For now, Navalny is under close observation in a pre-trial detention center, but after being transferred to a penal colony, he will no longer be safe, says Romanowa.

(mt)



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