Russia’s leading opposition politician was reduced to a stamp-sized figure in a matter of months. Even in a small courtroom in Kovrov, a town 250 kilometers east of Moscow, spectators have to stare to see Alexei Navalny properly on the small TV screen. Through the only window in which he is still allowed to see the outside world, the politician, who has been imprisoned since last year, looks gray and emaciated.
In this cramped room, Judge Kirill Nikiforov, a young, lanky and pale man, deals with the complaints Navalny tirelessly files against the Russian prison system FSIN about the degrading treatment he receives in the IK-6 criminal camp, notorious for its torture. Methods. There are four Russian and two foreign journalists in the room.
Walking for a few seconds without your hands behind your back: five days of solitude. Unbutton: Three days
Navalny, 46, is not allowed to attend the hearing. He has to remain in the penal camp in the neighboring village of Melichovo, where he was transferred this spring to serve a nine-year sentence for “fraud and contempt of court.” According to his supporters, President Putin ordered to rule personally in order to silence his main domestic opponent.
The latter has not yet succeeded, as it turned out on the first day of December. After being transferred this summer from a camp in neighboring Pokrov, Navalny was put into operation. Since then he has been sitting on a low chair behind a sewing machine for seven hours a day. This is not a position his tall body would tolerate, nor what FSIN’s safety regulations dictate. “The tailor’s workplace should be equipped with office chairs with a reclining back,” Navalny’s defense.
Also read this report from last year: Navalny’s criminal camp aims to break down prisoners”
The angry politician decided in August in order to improve not only working conditions, but also those of his fellow prisoners. trade union to set up for the prisoners, which is Promzona Referred. The Kremlin wants its gulag to consist of silent slaves. And here I come! He wrote on Twitter in mid-August instead of begging for a pardon. As expected, the bold initiative was immediately crushed by the prison administration and the still ongoing torture of the politician began.
Since his union initiative, Navalny has spent his days in a shizo, the harshest form of isolation in the Russian penal system. The prisoners are not allowed to bring any food or personal items, they only read or write for one hour a day and the bed against the wall is bundled up during the day, so rest is impossible. “It’s an unventilated kennel about 2.5 by 3 metres, where even cobwebs never move. It’s usually damp and cold, but lately it’s gotten really hot. At night you feel like a fish running out of water, gasping for breath,” he described his cell on Instagram last month.
Instead of begging for pardon, I demand that the law be obeyed
Given the maximum legal length of stay in the ShIZO of fifteen days, the IK-6 secretaries came up with a trick. Once Navalny’s period of isolation ends, a new offense is drawn up for his re-imprisonment on the same day.
On August 12, the day after he announced his plan to unionize, an observant guard noticed that the buttons of his prison suit—too small—hadn’t fully closed until the top: three days of solitude. After a week, she didn’t put his hands on his back for a few seconds while walking: five days of solitude. Citing the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights: twenty-one days. Refusal to wash the fence (“Painting, I still get it, but washing is rubbish”): Fourteen days. Not cleaning the yard: seven days.
At the end of November, when the mercury dropped below zero, he was the only one in the camp without winter boots. In court, it became clear that just before the start of the hearing, Navalny would have to go into isolation again for eleven days, because a guard had seen him without a coat at five in the morning.
Although the endless taunts are meant to break the prisoners psychologically and physically, they seem to only make the stubborn Navalny even more determined. “I will not hide it, solitary confinement is hell, there is nothing really pleasant about it. But there are more important things in life than comfort. I don’t care how long I have to sit here. I will not betray my example or my supporters,” the politician said.
This session also shows that for a person who has now spent 78 days without a break in a bare cell measuring 3.5 by 2 meters, the prisoner makes an exceptionally combative impression. With the same piercing irony that brought him international fame, he threw a single discrepancy in the course of justice before the judge through the screen.
“Your Excellency! What kind of nonsense is this?! There are 322 thousand prisoners in Russia, the vast majority of whom work. This is more than work on the pyramids in Egypt! I want to end this modern slavery, but since I raised this issue I cannot get out of the solitary cell!” He shouted as he flipped through the papers on the table in front of him. Everyone knows that a lot of money is made from prisoners in Russia. But I don’t even have the right to know anything! ”
The young judge swayed. You can barely hear his words, but he keeps his head down. It is not he who determines the course of events, but his superiors, who, in turn, act on instructions from the Kremlin. They are far from bored with legal sparring. Navalny He faces another prison sentence 30 years for “inciting and financing terrorism and extremism” and “rehabilitating Nazism”. the latter due to a suspension from his right-hand man Leonid Volkov, who fled the country in 2019, and who appeared on Navalny’s YouTube show. popular politics stated that “[generaal] Stauffenberg was right when he wanted to kill Hitler.
Lonely as he is, Navalny is not alone. On the outside, his wife Yulia and his team of staff are of international interest. He is assisted in court by lawyers Vadim Kobzev and Olga Mikhailova. They are the only ones allowed to be contacted – sporadically and behind glass -. However, prison authorities are increasingly restricting this right. Exchange of documents is now prohibited. In September, the visiting room window was covered in such thin foil that Navalny could no longer see his lawyers and his documents became illegible. Now Navalny’s messages, which still fill his social media, must be transmitted by word of mouth. Thus, the Kremlin is increasingly cutting him off from the world, hoping that the world will forget him.
For their own safety, the two lawyers rarely speak to reporters about Navalny’s condition. Especially since the FSB security service last week set a new set of censorship rules I believe, which makes sharing information with the press more dangerous. With the hearing approaching, Mikhailova still wanted to say something about Navalny’s strategy of filing complaints on the assembly line. “No prisoner would dare to do that, everyone knows that complaining causes more problems,” she says. The politician has no choice. Surviving and attracting attention is the only opponent Navalny can face.
A version of this article also appeared in the December 5, 2022 newspaper
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