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Navalnyj’s lawyers fear permanent disability

Dhe spring sun shines over correctional colony number 2 on the outskirts of Pokrov, a small town a hundred kilometers east of Moscow. Behind barbed wire and metal fences you can see gray buildings, including the golden dome of a chapel. Behind it there must be workshops, a carpentry shop and a sewing shop, in which the Russian opposition politician Alexej Navalnyj, who is under special observation as a newcomer, but does not yet work.

Friedrich Schmidt

The last part of the way to Russia’s most famous prisoner is bumpy, deep holes are filled with meltwater. A barrier blocks the way to the penal colony. In front of it that morning, Navalnyj’s lawyers, Olga Michajlowa and Vadim Kobesv, are waiting in an off-road vehicle, typing on their smartphones. They waited a long time here on Wednesday to be admitted to Navalnyj, without success.

Enormous waiting times are common for lawyers in this penal colony, which is notorious for the strictest controls. After Navalnyj was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment in an arbitrary procedure according to the European Court of Human Rights and his transfer from a Moscow remand prison to the Vladimir region, Mikhaylova and Kobesev even had to look for their clients in the local remand prisons; they found him in an institution a few dozen kilometers from Pokrov.

In the middle of March, Navalnyj came to the number 2 reform colony in the city. In Instagram posts that Navalnyj dictated to the lawyers, he tried to convey the image of an unbroken, cheerful man. He has never seen violence, it said under an older photo of Navalnyj with shaved head. But because of the tense attitude of the prisoners, he easily believes in the many stories about the colony, in which, until recently, “people were beaten half to death with wooden hammers”.

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Because Navalnyj – who voluntarily returned to Russia in January – was classified as “at risk of fleeing”, he says he is filmed every hour of the night. Former prisoners described nonsensical routines to journalists and reported about roll calls, rituals and pressure.

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