Life inside is invisible, behind tall metal fences and barbed wire that surround this shabby-looking facility in Russia’s Vladimir region, a two-hour drive from the capital, Moscow.
“Little did I know that it was possible to set up a real concentration camp 100 km from Moscow,” said Navalny, adding that his head had been shaved.
“Video cameras are everywhere, everyone is being watched and the slightest injury will make a report. I believe someone above read Orwell’s ‘1984’,” Navalny continued, referring to the classic dystopian novel.
Life in prison in the city of Pokrov could become even more mundane, stressful and potentially dangerous, according to a former inmate.
Konstantin Kotov served two miserable sentences in penal colony No. 2 – the first for four months, the second for six months – for violating Russian anti-protest laws.
He was last released in December and was eager to return but agreed to travel on CNN to explain how the penal colony works inside.
“From the first minutes you’re here, you’re under mental and moral pressure,” he told CNN.
“You are forced to do things that you would never do in normal life. You are forbidden to speak to other convicts. They force you to learn the list of employees’ names. They are open all day from 6 to.” 6 pm on your feet 10 pm You are not allowed to sit down. They do not allow you to read, they do not allow you to write a letter. It can take two weeks, it can take three weeks. “
Navalny was jailed after a Moscow court replaced his suspended sentence with prison on February 2 for violating his probation.
He was arrested on returning to Moscow from Germany, where he was recovering from a nerve agent poisoning. Navalny accuses Russian security services of tucking Novichok in his underpants, and the US and European Union largely agree and have sanctioned Russian officials for their involvement. Russian authorities were initially reluctant to say exactly where Navalny was and refused to tell Navalny’s lawyers or even family members where he was being held until days after he moved.
After it has been confirmed that he is in Penal Colony 2, he is expected to serve the remainder of his sentence there.
“Torture on TV”
Kotov, the former inmate, explained that prisoners in shack rooms sleep in iron bunk beds. About 50 to 60 men slept in his room, he said, each with limited living space.
“You get up at 6 a.m., go to the nearby courtyard and hear the national anthem of Russia – the anthem of the Russian Federation every day,” he said.
“You can’t write, you can’t read. For example, I spent most of the day watching television, Russian federal channels. That is torture through television.”
It’s what he calls the “daily meaningless activity” that Kotov says sets the tone, but then there are the constant corrections for any perceived wrongdoing.
“I was reprimanded for not saying hello to an employee and for opening my top button,” said Kotov.
The slightest injury can result in an inmate being placed in solitary confinement, Kotov said, maybe for months.
Order is maintained by both prison guards and prisoners known as “carers” who work with the prison administration.
Although the orderly is also a convict, Kotov said, they rely on reporting anyone who does not stick to the line.
“They are like spies who follow every step and report them to the administration,” said Kotov.
Alexander Kalashnikov of the Russian Federal Prison Service (FSIN) said Navalny was being treated like any other prisoner.
“Everything is done within the law and current legislation,” he told reporters in late February.
“Realm of Fear”
Violence can be common in Russian prisons. The disturbing video from the Russian investigation newspaper Novaya Gazeta shows prisoners being beaten by guards in a penal colony in Yaroslavl, the region next to Navalny. A Russian court has convicted several people of involvement in a national scandal, but former inmates say it is not an isolated incident.
Kotov says he saw inmates in Penitentiary Colony No. 2 being beaten by guards. Most of the time, they unscrewed a chair leg and hit people on the heels – painfully and inconspicuously – he told CNN.
Navalny said in his Instagram post that he has not seen violence before, but he “easily believes the numerous stories” of brutality in the colony due to the fear he has seen among his fellow inmates.
He said he was woken up every hour by a security guard who would shine a camera and a light on his face to check if he was there as he was classified as a “flight risk”.
Kotov said he was afraid for Navalny’s mental state, not his physical health. He believes that Navalny’s high standing would mean that officials would not want him to be physically harmed.
“They want to rob him of his voice,” Kotov told CNN. “That is their purpose.”
Prisoner expert Pyotr Kuryanov of the Defending Prisoners’ Rights Foundation said the situation in the prison camp, which he called the “realm of fear”, was “very dangerous”.
“It’s difficult to stay there and keep your cool and not respond to provocation,” he told CNN. “It’s extremely tough psychologically. The smallest possible injury … could lead to serious physical harm to a convict.”
In the ranks of the two-story barracks, inmates can be instructed to use toothbrushes and other degrading and pointless chores to humiliate them, Kuryanov said.
“I do not rule out that Alexey may become a victim of a nervous breakdown,” he added.