The facility housing Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, described by one former convict as “inhumane” and “real hell,” is more like a “scout camp” than a jail. That’s according to Maria Butina, a former prisoner herself.
Butina, who visited the prison colony near Moscow on Thursday, was found guilty in 2018 of acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the US. After almost a year in pre-trial detention, she spent five months in a Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, a minimum-security prison in Florida, before being deported to Moscow. Her visit to see Navalny, accompanied by cameras from RT’s Russian service, has been slammed by his supporters, with the opposition figure himself branding her a “propagandist” and a “parasite.”
“I even asked him a question: does he understand the difference between a prison and a sanatorium?” Butina wrote on her Telegram channel. “I took a close look at the prison colony. It was almost exemplary, and compared to what I had seen, it was more like a scout camp.”
The former convict, who now has a show on RT’s Russian service, cast doubt on Navalny’s claim that he is suffering from pain and can barely move. She also suggested that the opposition figure was lying about being deprived of sleep.
Last week, Navalny’s lawyers alleged he was being tortured by prison guards, who wake him up once every hour at night.
“Navalny walks perfectly normally,” she continued, “He doesn’t look like a person who is ‘not allowed to sleep.’”
In her published account of her time in US jail, Butina revealed that she suffered from not being able to get a complete night’s rest.
“Day and night, every 15 minutes, I was woken up by the light being turned on. As soon as I fell back to sleep, the guard would go through the metal detector, and there would be a beep,” she wrote.
Following Butina’s visit to the prison, Navalny’s supporters claimed it was wrong that she was allowed inside his cell, given their insistence he has been stopped from seeing a doctor. One of his closest allies, the London-based Maria Pevchikh said it was Butina who should be in jail instead.
Navalny is currently in Corrective Colony No. 2 (IK-2) in Pokrov, a town in the Vladimir Region, not far from Moscow. In recent years, it has housed political activist Konstantin Kotov, recently released after serving just over a year behind bars, and Dmitry Demushkin, a Russian nationalist convicted of extremism.
Butina’s take on the prison differs significantly from previously published descriptions of the jail. In an RT interview from March 2019, Demushkin described it as one of the country’s toughest jails.
“You either stand for six or eight hours a day, or you sit with your back straight, legs together, hands on your knees, and you can’t do anything,” he said. “You run from morning to night, follow all commands while sprinting, with your head down, always with your hands behind your back, even in the barracks. We had real hell in Pokrov. Inhumane conditions.”
In February, Navalny was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison, after being found guilty of breaking the conditions of a suspended sentence handed to him in 2014, when he was convicted of embezzling 30 million rubles ($400,000) from two companies, including the French cosmetics brand Yves Rocher. Prosecutors claimed he had failed to present himself to the authorities as required. However, at the time, Navalny was in Germany, convalescing from an alleged poisoning in Siberia last August, which he claims was ordered by the Russian government. The Kremlin denies any involvement.
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