Skip to main content
  • Share to or

“Everything in Ildar’s letter is true. And it’s a message from those in power.” Fellow political prisoner and oppositionist Oleg Navalny responds to Ildar Dadin

Source: Meduza
Photo: Maxim Shipenkov / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

On November 1, 2016, Meduza published a letter written by Ildar Dadin to his wife Anastasia Zotova. Dadin was imprisoned for organizing one-man protests – the first to be punished under new amendments to Russia’s criminal code. One-man protests do not require advanced approval in Russia. Still, in December 2015, he was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison. In his letter, Dadin revealed the torture that he was enduring at the hands of prison authorities at penal colony number 7 in the town of Segezha. The officers, he said, repeatedly beat him, hanged him by his handcuffs, and threatened to rape him. The torture and beatings of other prisoners at the colony did not cease even after the letter’s publication. Another famous Russian prisoner, Oleg Navalny – the brother of opposition leader Alexei Navalny – replied to Ildar Dadin’s letter. Below, Meduza publishes the full text of Navalny’s response with minimal revisions.

Surely, you’re all aware that [Russia] has political prisoners. Surprise, surprise!

Ildar Dadin is the first, and thus far the only, Russian citizens to be put behind bars for a repeatedly exercised right that is guaranteed by Article 31 of the Constitution. He recently published a letter on Meduza. This was a very serious letter: not some nonsense on the problem of rotten olives in his colony, but on a subject of importance, that of torture. Frankly, I was shocked. Not, of course, by torture in prisons. Actually, is there anyone on the territory of the motherland who could be shocked by this? It may sound funny, but there is torture in Russian prisons.

I was shocked by the fact that Dadin, in particular, was being tortured.

All my experience and everything that I read in the works of Soviet and post-Soviet period political prisoners says that prison guards (at least the overwhelming majority of them) are not especially bright, but that the instinct of self-preservation instructs them:

Don’t torture him, who could write to Meduza about being tortured.

Or more specifically:

Don’t torture him, whose letter about being tortured will be published by Meduza.

Ildar, of course, is amongst the latter. I even read his letter in [publication] Novaya Gazeta (probably a reference to an interview given by Dadin's wife) about how he sits in jail; the Federal Penitentiary Service would expect him to be surveilled. By the way, no one can actually be beaten [in jail], and those who are hit are usually those who can be hit safely. These are usually intimidating men in spotted uniforms and, [more often than not], cowards.

In search of information on the management of the Republic of Karelia's Federal Penitentiary Service, I turned to my informants. As we know, official sources almost never lie, so I buried myself in selected editions of the [government] newspaper Kazennyy dom — and found a few notes.

Here is some information on the fact that penal colonies in Karelia are now online. The "justice" system facilitates the work of the republic's prisons and courts.

Here is some information on art-therapy in the work of psychologists.

I close my eyes and see how the prisoner [engages in] this [art therapy], not on anonymous threats and ransom, but on the subject of "magic autumn", and how he is [suddenly] corrected.

Wow! And here is some information about penal colony number 7 in Segezha. "A song fit for [my] mood"

Not a word on torture. How very strange.

After all, it was somewhere there that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was imprisoned. I praise his book and his memoirs and leaf through [his book] Tyurma i volya (Prison and will). As is characteristic of the memoirs of those who have spent time in prison, there is very little there about his release. But in skimming, I did not find any episodes of him being suspended by handcuffs and succumbing to terrible pain in the wrists and elbows.

I had the thought: what if Ildar had imagined it all? This was a new place, he was stressed. Anything can happen.

Upon some reflection, I realized that it is highly unlikely that you could imagine being beaten by 10-12 people, all of them kicking you simultaneously.

It was then that I decided to turn the prison community and find out what was going on in Karelia.

Instead of a verbal response, I saw a gesture through a keyhole. You know, that type of a gesture when you raise your chin and stick your index and middle fingers around your neck. This gesture is also known as "forks". I would draw it, but drawing isn't my strong suit, they say. (The "forks" gesture is used to communicate that a situation is extremely grave and threatening — Meduza).

So, yes, I think that everything in Ildar's letter was true. And judging by the fact that [colony] head Mr. [Sergei] Kossiev is himself not sleeping on a prison cot, it's easy to interpret this as a simple message from authorities:

Don't go to rallies. If you do, we'll jail you, put you in handcuffs, call in another prisoner, and have him rape you.

I must say that the conditions are rather transparent.

In this situation, Ildar could have been helped, for example, by [Novaya Gazeta journalist] Yelena Masyuk. I have great pleasure in watching Novaya Gazeta report [the happenings] in torture rooms. When I learned about the news from penal colony number 7, I also learned that Masyuk is no longer a park of in the public monitoring commission. Instead of her, the commission now includes the former head of Butyrka, under whose watch Sergei Magnitsky was killed. It is difficult to say whether he can help Dadin. Rather, he could offer [Kassiev] some suggestions -- well, you know, on how to forge documents or minimize marks of torture, though [Kassiev] seems to be coping just fine, as it is.

Coming back to the article on "songs for moods" from Kazennyy dom. It is clear that now, Dadin has become the "Ice under the Major feet", and not some abstract major, but a concrete major, namely Sergei Leonidovich Kossieva.

It is [also] obvious that the key word in this song is "we" and even more obvious that this "we" is actually absent:

a) Ildar is doomed to a very unenviable fate;

b) society automatically accepts this fate that is imposed upon him by authorities.

It is obvious that no policeman or human rights commissioner can help Ildar. Only we can help him.

This situation should not lie ignored by the public. It should be discussed, a public inquiry should continue until the major slips and falls.

[I request] that this letter be shared to the maximum, that is even after what is written here has ceased being news [and] even if this concerns you less than Brexit and Donald Trump coming to power in the United States.

  • Share to or