‘Collapse and chaos’ Independent journalist Sergey Smirnov on serving time in a Russian ‘special’ detention center
Mediazona editor and prominent independent journalist Sergey Smirnov was released from custody on Thursday February 18, after serving 15 days in jail for a joke he shared on Twitter. Following his release, Smirnov described his time in detention in an interview with journalist Elizaveta Nesterova that was streamed on YouTube. Here’s what Sergey Smirnov said about the conditions at the “special” detention center, in a nutshell.
What happened in Sakharovo can be described in two words: collapse and chaos. I arrived there at two o’clock in the morning. It’s a good thing I brought a pillow with me. They should have taken my phone, shoelaces, documents, and other things immediately and given them back prior to my release. But the confiscation of my things was a mess. They took my phone away only after four days. They took my laces away twice but I took them back both times. And half of the detainees were in the same boat as me. When they released us, many people couldn’t find their things; one guy lost his laptop.
At first I was placed in a normal cell, and then they transferred me to another one — a two-person cell with eight radiators. It was like being in a sauna. My cellmate, a libertarian from Krasnoyarsk named Gleb Maryasov, wore nothing but his underwear. He complained about the heat for six days, but no one responded. They only opened the second window in the cell after my blood pressure increased to 178/118 and his blood pressure hit 155/110 (although before that they maintained that the second window couldn’t open).
The food in Sakharovo is tolerable, the lighting is poor: during the day there isn’t enough light for reading and at night they turned on bright, white lights. There’s a “muffler” between the cells so you can’t knock on the walls. They refused to give us our phones for phone calls — instead, they offered to put our SIM cards in phones they had at the special detention center. But many of the SIM cards were the wrong size. We asked them to bring us new SIM cards and then we were able to make calls.
The medical unit didn’t have a lot of medications. And I was also glad that I had already been vaccinated against the coronavirus: you’re sitting in a room with 15 people and several of them are coughing. The walks were shorter than they should have been; once they took us back to our cells after just 15 minutes. There were foreign nationals in the detention center with us. They were kept separately, but I met a Nigerian, a man from Senegal, a Cuban, and a guy from Congo who had been in Sakharovo for nearly two years. Among the detainees from the rallies, by my calculations, 10 to 15 percent were random people.
You can watch Sergey Smirnov’s full interview with Elizaveta Nesterova in Russian here.
Translation by Eilish Hart