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‘They watch television and drink tea’ Here’s what Navalny’s lawyer told us about the detention center where he’s imprisoned

Source: Meduza
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”

On February 25, opposition politician Alexey Navalny was transferred from Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina remand prison. No official statements were made about his whereabouts, but several media outlets immediately reported that Navalny had been moved to Penal Colony No. 2 in the city of Pokrov, Vladimir Region. A week later, on March 3, Navalny’s lawyers finally managed to locate him: at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 3 (SIZO-3) in Kolchugino, another town in the Vladimir Region northeast of Moscow. In his own words, Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobzev tells Meduza about the search for Navalny and the conditions the opposition figure is being held in now.

There were reports about the fact that he was in [Penal Colony No. 2] in Pokrov. Everyone wrote about it, including your publication. But no one had gone there to see him, and there wasn’t any kind of confirmation that he was there. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, we thought that he shouldn’t be in a penal colony, because the verdict hadn’t entered into force yet. And so we went around to SIZOs [pre-trial detention centers]. There aren’t that many SIZOs in the Vladimir region, I believe there’s only two. And it indeed turned out that he was there [at SIZO-3 in Kolchugino].

We arrived at half past nine [in the morning]. We waited until two o’clock. At half past three we met with him [Navalny]. This was our first meeting after his return to Russia where we spoke face-to-face without any third parties [rather than] through glass or by telephone. We were in an office, we communicated directly, one-on-one. That said, the office was monitored by a video camera. Whether it was equipped with audio recording devices, we don’t know.

The detention center is “open” from eight in the morning until five in the evening and we were with him until five. 

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Despite the small hardship, Alexey was upbeat and cheerful. He was fine. He travelled from Moscow by car with those two inmates [that he mentioned in his Instagram post]. No one bothered him, no one harassed him, no one beat him up.

[The increased security measures placed on Navalny due to the fact that he was registered as a “liable to escape”] weren’t felt in any way. Absolutely everyone who is familiar with such situations says that this matters when serving out the sentence, but not while [you’re] in a pre-trial detention center. So up until now this hasn’t manifested itself in any way. 

We think that [Navalny’s transfer from the Moscow remand prison to the detention center in Vladimir] has nothing to do with legislation or any regulations. Obviously, a political decision was made so that he wouldn’t be in Moscow. I don’t know if you’re aware or not but from the moment he reached the Moscow prison there were always two traffic police patrol cars parked outside of this prison. People also tried to come to this prison during [the pro-Navalny rallies].

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Alexey knew that the Vladimir region’s penitentiary facilities have a notorious reputation. So far, this hasn’t manifested itself in any way with regard to him personally.

He called his cell [in the detention center] a “quarantine” one. Whenever a person arrives at a SIZO or a penal colony, he’s initially put in so-called quarantine — this isn’t even linked to the virus [COVID-19], it’s protocol. [But] this quarantine has never been an obstacle for meeting with a lawyer.

As you can see [from Navalny’s Instagram post], he’s getting along [with his cellmates] absolutely fine. [But] he doesn’t have access to the library. And he can’t use the commissary. All of these days he’s had the basic food that the detention center provides. [During the meeting] we didn’t get to the question of what they’re feeding him. But since he didn’t complain that the food was really bad it means that it’s tolerable. 

In my opinion, the most deplorable [thing] is that he doesn’t have a fridge. Because it significantly narrows the range of groceries that a person is able to have. Everything that’s perishable, everything that needs to be kept cold isn’t accessible to you. 

[Navalny and his cellmates] are constantly drinking tea, then coffee, then tea, then coffee. They have too much free time and nothing to do. They watch television and drink tea and coffee. That’s the main activity, as far as I understood. There are also walks and some kind of pull-up bar.

How long he’ll stay in this detention center is unclear. In all likelihood, [he’ll be there] until the verdict [in the so-called war veteran defamation case] enters into force.The verdict comes into legal forces after the consideration of the appeal. We filed this appeal with the Babushkinsky Court, a date [for the hearing] hasn’t been set yet. 

In practice, this date could be set in two weeks or in three, or in a month or two. There are no deadlines here, because before setting a date the defense’s complaint has to be sent to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor will have time to prepare objections. Then they’re sent to court. After that these objections are sent to the defense lawyers and the accused. Everyone has to be notified about everything, everything has to be handed to everyone — and these procedures take very different [amounts] of time. But everything related to cases linked to Navalny has been done very quickly. So we don’t think it will drag on for a month, as happens in ordinary cases. 

In the complaint we filed, we indicated that he [Navalny] himself is insisting on his personal participation in the [appellate proceedings]. But this demand is optional for the court. The court must ensure his participation in the process. In some form: personal participation or via video conference link — it’s already up to the court to make a decision. 

Whether he will be sent to Pokrov is also unclear. There are no rules that would prescribe sending him to Pokrov specifically. First of all, there are two general regime colonies in the Vladimir region: one is in Pokrov and the other is in Vladimir.

Secondly, there’s nothing stopping the authorities from sending him to another region. It’s possible that they originally wanted to send him to Pokrov, but they could change their minds — nothing is stopping them from doing this. The likelihood of being sent to Pokrov is the same as [being sent] to any other detention center in [Russia’s] central region. 

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Interview by Kristina Safonova

Translation by Eilish Hart

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