Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny (44) was transferred from a Moscow prison last week.
After Putin’s most dangerous opponent was sentenced to two years and six months in prison on February 20, it was initially unclear to his lawyers where Navalny was.
He was convicted on bogus allegations for violating probation requirements in a previous criminal case.
Navalny was in Germany for treatment at the said time after a poison attack was carried out on him. He was in a coma at the Berlin Charité for several weeks.
Penal colony surrounded by Putin fans
Until last week, Pokrov in the Russian Oblast of Vladimir was hardly known internationally – that is likely to change now: Putin’s regime has banished its greatest critic to the penal colony there.
Penal colony number 2 will now be Nawalny’s residence for more than two years. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg repeatedly called for his immediate release. Moscow rejected the ECHR’s request.
Since the verdict was pronounced, the United Nations has repeatedly called on the Russian government to release Navalny immediately.
▶ ︎ The people in Pokrov, on the other hand, are less friendly towards the Kremlin critic. “It doesn’t matter why he’s in prison,” said resident Yadviga Krylova (56) to the AFP news agency. “The most important thing is that he’s in jail.”
So Navalny cannot count on the support of the local residents. They stick firmly to the Putin regime.
“You describe the colony as one of the strictest in Russia,” says entrepreneur Denis. “Maybe that’s why he was moved here.”
Long working days under the worst conditions
The Russian penal colony system consists of a network of 684 labor camps, a system that was set up by Joseph Stalin. There are approximately 393,000 inmates locked in this system today.
▶︎ The prisoners have to work under inhumane conditions. They have to use their minimum salary mainly for their own accommodation there.
Russian human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the inmates for having to work long days under the worst of conditions.
▶ ︎ Maxim Trudolyubov, editor of the “Meduza” news site, describes the Russian penal colony system as a “blunt instrument of the Kremlin to break the will of critics and opposition members”.
“That is the purpose – either they will be broken psychologically or they will leave Russia immediately after completing their sentence,” Trudolyubov told AFP.
“The goal of the system is to break it”
Former inmates have also spoken out about penal colony number 2.
One of them is Konstantin Kotov. He served almost two years in the colony: “Every step the prisoner takes is completely determined by the management.” He told AFP that prisoners have no free time and are completely cut off from the outside world.
The only goal is “to put pressure on the inmates and to subdue them”. “The colony [Nummer 2, Anm. d. Red.] is described as exemplary. She got this reputation because people are not treated like people there, ”Kotov continued.
The opposition in Russia has lost its most important vote with the imprisonment of Navalny. Some wonder whether he will be able to continue his fight against Putin after more than two years in the penal colony.
“There will be bullying and humiliation,” said Marina Litvinovich, a member of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission, who is monitoring prison conditions.
▶ ︎ “The goal of the system is to break it.”