Life inside is hidden from view, behind tall metal fences and barbed wire that surround this dilapidated-looking facility in the Vladimir region of Russia, a two-hour drive from the city. capital, Moscow.
“He had no idea that it was possible to organize a real concentration camp 100 km from Moscow,” said Navalny, who added that his boss had shaved.
“Camcorders are everywhere, everyone is seen and, at the slightest infraction, they make a report. I think someone upstairs read Orwell’s 1984,” Navalny continued, referring to the classic novel dystopian.
According to a former inmate, life in prison, in the town of Pokrov, could become more banal, stressful and possibly dangerous.
Konstantin Kotov complied with what he said were two miserable sentences (the first for four months, the second for six months) in penal colony number 2 for breaching Russian anti-protest laws.
He was last released in December and was eager to return, but agreed to travel with CNN to explain how the penal colony works inside.
“From the first few minutes you’re here, you’re experiencing mental and moral pressure,” he told CNN.
“You’re forced to do things you would never do in normal life. You’re forbidden to talk to other convicts. They force you to learn the list of employee names. You’re standing all day, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. : 00 You are not allowed to sit. You are not allowed to read, you are not allowed to write a letter. It can last two weeks, it can last three weeks. “
Navalny was sent to prison after a Moscow court on February 2 replaced his suspended prison sentence for violations of his parole.
Now that he is confirmed to be in Criminal Colony 2, he is expected to serve the rest of his sentence there.
“Torture for TV”
Kotov, the former inmate, explained that prisoners sleep in barracks rooms on iron bunks. He said between 50 and 60 men slept in his room, each with only a small living space.
“You get up at 6 in the morning, go out into the nearby courtyard and listen to the national anthem of Russia, every day the anthem of the Russian Federation,” he said.
“You can’t write, you can’t read. For example, I watched television most of the day, on Russian federal channels. This is torture for television.”
It’s what he calls “meaningless daily activity” that Kotov says sets the tone, but there are constant corrections to any perceived wrongdoing.
“I was reprimanded for not saying hello to an employee and for having the top button undone,” Kotov said.
The slightest infraction can cause an inmate to be taken into internal isolation, Kotov said, perhaps for months.
Order is maintained by both prison guards and inmates known as “orderers” who cooperate with the prison administration.
While the orderly is also a convict, Kotov said, they are based on the complaint of anyone who does not cope.
“They are like spies who follow in their footsteps and report them to the administration,” Kotov said.
Alexander Kalashnikov, of the Russian Federal Prison Service (FSIN), has said Navalny is treated like any other prisoner.
“Everything is done within the framework of current law and legislation,” he told reporters in late February.
‘Empire of Fear’
Violence can be common in Russian prisons. A disturbing video published by the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta shows prisoners beaten by guards in a penal colony in Yaroslavl, the region next to which Navalny is detained. A Russian court has convicted several people of involvement in what has become a national scandal, but former inmates say it is not an isolated case.
Kotov says he saw orders being beaten to inmates at No. 2 penal colony. Most of the time they unscrewed a chair leg and hit people on the heels (painful and unobtrusive), he told CNN.
Navalny in his Instagram post said he had not yet witnessed violence, but “easily believes the many stories” of brutality in the colony because of the fear he has witnessed among his fellow inmates.
He said he was being woken up every hour by a guard wearing a camera and his face lit up to check that he was there, as he has been designated a “flight risk”.
Kotov said he feared Navalny’s mental state more than his physical health, and said he believed Navalny’s high profile would mean officials would not want to physically hurt him.
“They want to deprive him of his voice,” Kotov told CNN. “That is their purpose.”
Prisoner rights expert Pyotr Kuryanov of the Prisoners’ Rights Defender Foundation said the situation was “very dangerous” in the prison camp, which he called the “empire of fear.”
“It’s hard to stay there and keep a cool head and not react to provocations,” he told CNN. “It’s extremely hard psychologically. The smallest rape possible … can cause a person doomed to great physical harm.”
Within the rows of two-story barracks, inmates can be ordered to clean the floors with toothbrushes and other degrading and useless tasks designed to humiliate, Kuryanov said.
“I don’t rule out Alexey being the victim of a nervous breakdown,” he added.