Politics

Russia Sends Navalny to Notorious Penal Camp Feared by Inmates

Photographer: Mikhail Metzel/TASS/getty Images

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who survived a chemical poisoning last year that he called a Kremlin attempt to kill him, has begun serving his two-and-a-half-year sentence at a notorious penal camp.

Navalny, who was removed from his Moscow jail cell Thursday, is being held at a detention facility in the prison in the Vladimir region, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the Russian capital, Alexey Melnikov, secretary of the civil oversight commission of Moscow, told Bloomberg.

President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic lost an appeal Feb. 20 over a court decision to convert a 2014 suspended sentence into incarceration for breaking his probation terms. That was the last obstacle keeping the 44-year-old from being sent to a prison outside Moscow.

The jail, where inmates are housed in barracks and typically do manual labor, is classified as a “red zone” where the administration controls every aspect of life. “It’s a tough penal camp with very strict rules, to put it mildly,” said Eva Merkacheva, a member of a civic-oversight group for the prison system.

Konstantin Kotov, an opposition activist who was freed in December after 1 1/2 years at the same prison, said he was subjected to constant intimidation. This included repeated punishment for so-called infringements such as not saluting a prison guard or borrowing someone’s gloves — with those that his relatives sent him not being delivered — as well as isolating him from other inmates.

“Alexey is going to have a very difficult time,” Kotov said. “The administration keeps tabs on your every move.” While his case was so high-profile that no violence was used against him, “from the very first day I came under extreme psychological pressure,” he said.

The activist’s lawyer, Maria Eismont, got access to Kotov within a day and a half of his arrival at the jail but he’d already agreed to give up his right to confidential conversations with her, she said. “If I was the prison service and I wanted to make Navalny’s life as hellish as possible, I’d send him precisely to this camp,” Eismont added.

The head of the Russian Prison Service, Alexander Kalashnikov, said there’s “no threat” to Navalny’s “health or life” in prison, state-run Tass reported Friday.

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