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Navalny’s Penal Colony, A Kremlin Weapon To ‘Break’ Him

Until last week, the rural town of Pokrov on the outskirts of Moscow was lined with Soviet-era residential streets and wobbled wooden houses, but its fame was only the chocolate monument.

That changed on Sunday when it was revealed that Alexei Navalny, the most candid critic of the Kremlin, who survived the Novichok addiction attack last year and was imprisoned last month, will be sentenced to his sentence in the infamous penal colony here.

Surrounded by a corrugated fence covered with barbed wire, Penal Colony No. 2 outside Poklov, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow, will be the home of anti-corruption activists for the next two and a half years. Will be.

Last month’s court ruling to imprison Navalny for violating parole on charges of embezzlement a few years ago after the European Union agreed to new sanctions on Russia caused anger and Western concerns in Russian civil society. ..

But in Poklov, the inhabitants were not very sympathetic.





Penal Colony No. 2 will be Navalny’s home for the next two and a half years
AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF

“It doesn’t matter to us which prison he is in,” said 56-year-old pensioner Jadwiga Krylova. “The most important thing is that he is in jail.”

“They say it’s one of the toughest colonies in Russia,” Dennis, an entrepreneur who refused to give his surname, told AFP. “Maybe that’s why he was moved here.”

Next to Nawarny’s prison is a towering food processing factory run by Mondelez International, which in 2009 presented Poklov with a statue of a fairy holding sweets, recording 15 years of operation.



During the Soviet era, the region marked the so-called 101 km boundary from Moscow, beyond which many members of the cultural elite were expelled.


During the Soviet era, the region marked the so-called 101 km boundary from Moscow, beyond which many members of the cultural elite were expelled.
AFP / Kenan AUGEARD

This town is a stopover between Moscow and Vladimir. A fortified town and former Russian capital, it is dotted with gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage-listed churches that attract a large number of tourists on a day trip from Moscow.

During the Soviet era, the region marked the so-called 101 km boundary from Moscow, beyond which many members of the cultural elite were expelled.

Navalny’s new home is part of a vast network of approximately 684 labor colonies. The system was established by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and is reminiscent of the Gulag Forced Labor Network, which currently houses approximately 393,000 prisoners.

In fact, this system requires prisoners to do domestic work for a small salary. This is mostly absorbed by the system to cover the cost of accommodating prisoners.

However, it is routinely flagged by Russian advocacy groups as imposing long working hours and overlooking harsh conditions.

Maxim Trudolyubov, editor of the Meduza news website, states that the Russian penal colony system is a blunt instrument used by the Kremlin to defeat the spirit of the enemy and downplay critics.



Navalny's new home is part of a vast network of approximately 684 labor colonies.


Navalny’s new home is part of a vast network of approximately 684 labor colonies.
AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF

“That’s the purpose. People are psychologically broken or leave Russia shortly after they spend time,” he told AFP.

“In any case, that means that political opponents are excluded from the playing field.”

The rigors of the system came into the limelight in 2013 when imprisoned members of Pussy Riot’s punk group Nageji Datrokonnikova announced they would go on a hunger strike in the colony to protest “slave labor.” I was sick.

“Your hands are needle-stabbed and covered with scratches. Your blood is everywhere on the workbench, but you still continue to sew,” she said at her facility in Mordovia, southeastern Moscow. Talked about.

Russian prison director Alexei Navalny told state-owned TASS last week that there was “no threat” to Navalny, who is expected to work as a chef, librarian, or mask sewer.

However, since the news of his camp was reported, former prisoners talked about Penal Colony No. 2 and described it as one of the system’s most notorious facilities.

One of them, a nationalist politician named Dmitry Demushkin, who worked there for two years, told opposition television channel Dozhd that the prison administration worked to “psychologically crack people.”

“All steps of prisoners are decided by the administration,” Konstantin Kotov, who spent nearly two years in the colony for violating protest rules, told AFP.

He described an environment in which prisoners had little free time and were completely shielded from the outside world, with the aim of maintaining pressure on people and making them obedient.

“This colony is considered exemplary and achieves this by not treating people like people,” he said.

With Navalny imprisoned, Russian opponents were left without their most lively voice.

Some wonder if he is ready to continue the fight after being exposed to the Kremlin’s most effective suppression tools for more than two years.

“Bullying and humiliation will occur,” said Marina Litobinovich, a member of Moscow’s public oversight committee, which oversees the condition of the prison.

“The goal of the system is to beat him.”



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