Alexei Navalny: What is known about his new prison
4 min reading time
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was quietly and secretly transferred to one of Russia’s most feared penal colonies. The IK-6 detention center has a reputation as a torture chamber. Former prisoners report rape and terror.
While half the world is watching the front lines in Ukraine, behind the lines Vladimir Putin continues to wreak vengeance on his nemesis. On June 14, opposition politician Alexei Navalny was transferred to the high-security penal colony in Melekhovo, Vladimir region. Correctional Colony No. 6, IK-6 for short, is located almost 250 kilometers east of Moscow and is feared as a torture chamber. The opposition leader is to spend at least nine years of his life in prison here – if the Kremlin has its way.
On Wednesday, Navalny spoke up from the new prison: “Space travel continues – I swapped one spaceship for another,” he had his lawyers spread on social networks on his behalf. The figurehead of the Russian opposition likes to sarcastically compare his imprisonment to a flight into space – and regularly reports from the bizarre world behind bars. However, Navalny does not yet have much to report from his new prison. He is first in quarantine and familiarizes himself with the list of jobs that can be acquired in the penitentiary.
In this way, one can be trained to become a seamstress within three months. Navalny went through this training in his first prison. “Imagine, anyone who chooses the profession of ‘bird carcass tome’ learns this in three months! That means they are treated on an equal footing with us seamstresses. What is there to learn for three months!? Bread these carcasses with rhinestones or what? I’m outraged,” jokes Navalny with his own irony.
“But otherwise everything is ok. I greet and hug everyone and eat your birds without breading,” he added with a wink.
While Navalny puts on a good face to the bad game, concern for him is growing among his supporters and comrades-in-arms. The IK-6 penal colony is “notorious for the fact that its inmates are tortured and killed,” Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Jarmysch warned in May when the first information emerged that the 46-year-old was to be transferred there. The detention center “is a monstrous place, even by insane standards… Conditions there are worse than other prisons anyway: fewer packages, fewer visits. But it’s also one of Russia’s most horrific prisons.”
In the past, several witnesses reported torture in the detention center. In 2018, the newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” told the story of Gor Ovakimyan, who was serving a sentence in the IK-6 for an alleged drug offense. He complained to his relatives about torture. He was hit in the abdomen with a belt buckle, a bucket was placed on his head and loud music was turned on to stun him. Gas was then sprayed from a spray can under the bucket. Ovakimyan’s relatives believed the torture was in retaliation for his refusal to cooperate with the colony’s leadership.
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“Fingers and toes broken, genitals injured”
When Ovakimyan died in custody, the cause of death was given as pneumonia. However, the relatives fought for access to his body and recorded numerous traces of violence: “We recorded everything on video in the city morgue: there were traces of an electric shocker under his arm, fingers and toes were broken, the genitals were injured, there was a huge hematoma on the thigh, there was a huge black stripe on the back, the buttocks were covered with traces of a stun gun,” the deceased’s sister reported at the time. “There was no longer a healthy spot on his body. Only his face was untouched.”
Because of the case, investigations into negligent homicide were then initiated – without result.
Former prisoner admits participation in torture
According to Ivan Fomin, he took part in the torture that caused Ovakimian to die. The former prisoner of the IK-6 reported in a letter to the independent platform “Mediazona” about his participation and explained that he had been forced by other prisoners to participate in tortures on the instructions of the prison management.
Fomin reported about rapes of detainees with shovels. He himself was beaten and threatened with sexual violence. He was also forced to convert to Orthodoxy. Before he ended up in prison, Fomin had converted to Islam.
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Raped with a baton
Detainee Artem Gribanov also told the human rights organization Gulag.net about sexual violence in IK-6. His chilling account: “I was forcibly pushed into the office. Two mattresses lay on the floor, six people stood in masks: five of them wore staff clothes, the sixth a prisoner’s robe like mine. They threw me on these mattresses, tied my legs and arms, took off my pants and sat on my back. They started putting a condom on a baton, a real condom. After that they came from behind and started inserting the baton into my anus.”
Vladimir Pereverzin, the former manager of Yukos, one of Russia’s largest oil producers, was also serving his sentence in IK-6 and reported torture. According to him, power in the facility is in the hands of prisoners, who are controlled by the administration: “You jump off the transport truck, they search you and chase you through a number of other prisoners. They beat me up there,” Pereverzin recalled of his stay in IK-6.
Prisoners become torturers
The founder of the human rights organization Gulag.net, Vladimir Ossechkin, confirmed that in Russian prisons inmates are used as torturers: “Some convicts themselves become elements of this torture on the assembly line.” The reasons why inmates engage in torture vary. Some engaged in violence against their fellow inmates out of fear, others for benefits such as lighter sentences, early release, or even just alcohol. In addition, footage of torture serves as a deterrent to extort money from prisoners. Criminals can sometimes order punitive actions against their enemies in prison, they say.
“But it is also crucial that the local public prosecutor’s office, the committee of inquiry and the Ministry of the Interior turn a blind eye to numerous complaints and information on the Internet about such violations and thus legalize torture,” said the human rights activist.
Last year, Gulag.net published several terabytes of video footage documenting torture in Russian prisons. “The scale of torture, corruption, inhumane treatment and killings surpasses anything. The world is now seeing these mass crimes,” Ossetchkin commented. The result: the Russian Interior Ministry put Ossetchkin on the wanted list.