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A look at the lives of the political prisoners swept up in Russia’s crackdowns from inside the prison colonies.

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The following is a news report from Tallinn, Estonia. On his 47th birthday, Alexei Navalny will awaken in a sparsely furnished concrete cell deficient in natural illumination.

The individual will be deprived of visual and verbal communication with close acquaintances. Individuals confined to “punishment isolation” cells, which measure 2-by-3 meters (6 1/2 by 10 feet), are prohibited from receiving phone calls or visits. Typically, guards subject him to patriotic songs and speeches delivered by President Vladimir Putin.

The individual who has achieved the highest level of proficiency in listening to speeches given by Putin is referred to as the champion. Which individuals listen to them for extended periods and use them to aid in falling asleep? According to his attorneys, Navalny recently made a scathing post on social media from Penal Colony No. 6, located in the Vladimir region east of Moscow.

The individual in question is serving a nine-year sentence, scheduled to conclude in 2030. The charges against him are widely regarded as fabricated. Additionally, he is facing a new trial on fresh charges that could potentially result in a twenty-year prison sentence. On Sunday, rallies have been scheduled in Russia to support him.

Navalny is currently regarded as Russia’s most renowned political detainee, primarily due to his status as Putin’s most formidable political adversary, his alleged poisoning by the Kremlin, and his portrayal in an Academy Award-winning documentary.

The individual has documented his placement in isolation, which was determined arbitrarily and lasted nearly six months. The individual is currently adhering to a limited prison diet, with restricted access to letter writing and occasional cohabitation with a cellmate who exhibits poor personal hygiene, resulting in a less–desirable living situation.

The focus is primarily on Navalny and other prominent individuals, such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was recently convicted of treason and received a 25-year sentence. However, an increasing number of inmates who are not as well-known are being subjected to similarly severe circumstances.

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As of April, Memorial, the oldest and most distinguished human rights organization in Russia and a recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, reported 558 political prisoners. This number is over three times higher than the figure recorded in 2018, 183.

The gulag system of prison camps spread across the Soviet Union offered inmate labour to foster the growth of industries such as mining and logging. Although the conditions may differ across contemporary penal colonies, Russian legislation still authorizes the employment of prisoners in tasks such as the production of military uniforms through sewing.

As per the 2021 report by the U.S. State Department, the conditions prevailing in Russian prisons and detention centres were frequently severe and threatened inmates’ lives. Overcrowding, mistreatment by guards and inmates, restricted availability of healthcare, insufficient food supplies, and inadequate sanitation frequently characterized prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities.

Andrei Pivovarov, a political dissident convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, has been subjected to solitary confinement at Penal Colony No. 7 in the Karelia region of northern Russia since January. According to Tatyana Usmanova, his partner, he is expected to remain isolated for the remainder of the year. The institution has gained notoriety for its severe conditions and documented instances of torture.

The individual, 41 years old and previously held a leadership position in the pro-democracy organization Open Russia, is currently confined to a small cell within a detention unit that enforces strict regulations. According to Usmanova, the individual is prohibited from receiving calls or visits from individuals other than their legal representatives. The Associated Press was informed of this situation by Usmanova. According to the speaker, the individual can borrow a single book from the prison library, engage in several hours of letter writing per day, and be granted a total of 90 minutes of outdoor time.

According to the speaker, Pivovarov is subjected to “maximum isolation” as other inmates cannot establish eye contact with him in the corridors.

The imposition of a real prison sentence was deemed insufficient. According to Usmanova, there are attempts to harm his life in that location.

In May 2021, Pivovarov was removed from a flight bound for Warsaw that was about to depart from St. Petersburg. He was subsequently transported to Krasnodar, a city located in the southern region. The authorities charged him for involvement with an organization deemed “undesirable,” considered a criminal offence since 2015.

Before his apprehension, Open Russia had dissolved following its designation as an “undesirable” entity.

Following the trial in Krasnodar, the individual from St. Petersburg was found guilty and subsequently sentenced in July. This occurred when Russia was actively engaged in a military conflict in Ukraine, and the government, under Putin’s leadership, was aggressively suppressing any form of dissent.

In a letter addressed to AP from Krasnodar in December, the individual stated that authorities relocated him to the location above to further conceal his whereabouts from his hometown and Moscow. In one of his final interviews, Pivovarov depicted the prison experience as monotonous and disheartening. His sole source of entertainment was a solitary hour-long stroll within a confined outdoor area. According to the author, inmates with sufficient funds in their accounts are permitted to visit a prison store for 10 minutes weekly. However, apart from this, they must remain confined to their cells.

According to his statement, the morale of the individual in question is boosted by receiving letters of support. As per Pivovarov, several individuals have reported that they previously lacked interest in Russian politics but have recently gained a better understanding of the subject.

According to Usmanova, the current postal system experiences significant delays, with letters taking several weeks to reach their destination.

Alexei Gorinov, a former member of a Moscow municipal council, is among the political prisoners who experience comparatively less challenging conditions. In July, he was found guilty of disseminating inaccurate information about the army due to his antiwar statements during a council session.

Several months prior, expressing disapproval of the invasion was made illegal. As a result, 61-year-old Gorinov was sentenced to seven years in prison, becoming the first Russian to be incarcerated for this offence.

According to Gorinov’s written responses provided to AP in March, the individual is accommodated in a barracks with approximately 50 other unit members at Penal Colony No. 2 located in the Vladimir region.

According to Gorinov, the authorities chose a low-profile activist for a long sentence to set an example for others. The authorities wanted to showcase an ordinary person rather than a public figure. This decision has surprised many.

The inmates in his unit can access recreational activities such as watching television, playing chess, backgammon, or table tennis. The facility includes a compact kitchen suitable for preparing tea or coffee during intervals between meals. Additionally, individuals have the option to consume food from their provisions.

According to Gorinov, the prison authorities conduct “enhanced control” of the unit. He and two other inmates receive special checks every two hours as they have been identified as “prone to escape.”

According to his statement, there is limited availability of medical assistance.

The individual reported that they are currently experiencing discomfort due to their inability to recuperate from bronchitis. They further mentioned that during the previous winter, they required medical attention for pneumonia at a hospital ward in a different correctional facility. This was due to the limited medical resources available at Penal Colony No. 2, where the only treatment provided was for fever reduction.

Sasha Skochilenko, an artist and musician, faces health issues while being detained during her ongoing trial. She was arrested in St. Petersburg in April 2022 on charges of disseminating false information about the army. The individual committed an act of replacing a supermarket’s price tags with slogans against war as a form of protest.

Skochilenko has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and celiac disease, necessitating adherence to a gluten-free diet. Every week, the 32-year-old individual receives food parcels; however, a weight restriction is in place. According to Sophia Subbotina, the individual’s partner, a significant portion of the items included in the food parcels are not consumable by the individual.

According to Subbotina, a noticeable contrast exists between detention facilities designed for male and female prisoners. Skochilenko, being a female prisoner, has certain advantages over male prisoners.

Surprisingly, the majority of the staff exhibit pleasant behaviour. According to Subbotina, most individuals are female, exhibit friendly behaviour, offer useful advice, and possess a positive attitude towards Sasha. This information was conveyed to the Associated Press via telephone.

Frequently, Sasha receives support from her peers who express confidence in her ability to leave her current situation, stating that the circumstances are unjust. The concerned parties are aware of our relationship and have expressed no objections. According to the speaker, the individuals or entities referred to exhibit great compassion and empathy towards others.

The correctional facility does not contain any political propaganda and is equipped with a radio that plays dance music. Television broadcasts cooking shows. According to Subbotina, Skochilenko finds watching them be a distraction in jail, even though he wouldn’t typically watch them in regular life.

A third-party cardiologist was recently arranged to examine Skochilneko. Since March, the individual has been granted permission to visit Skochilneko twice a month.

Subbotina exhibited emotional behaviour while recollecting their initial visit.

Experiencing cohabitation with another individual can evoke a multifaceted and peculiar sensation. The speaker stated that she and Sasha had been in a relationship for six years. They have been accustomed to waking up and falling asleep together. However, they were separated for a year and could not meet. The individual experienced a sense of anxiety upon visiting the person in question. Before the interaction with Sasha, the user was uncertain about the content of their communication. However, the outcome of the interaction was ultimately positive.

According to Subbotina, Skochilenko faced significant challenges during his one-year imprisonment. The pace of the trial is notably sluggish, in contrast to the typically expeditious handling of cases involving prominent political activists, where convictions are nearly inevitable.

Skochilenko could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in the event of a conviction.

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