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At Alexey Navalny’s new prison, torture is rampant At least two past inmates died after being beaten
Alexey Navalny has been moved from a medium-security prison in Pokrov to a high-security penal colony in the town of Melekhovo in Russia’s Vladimir region. This was confirmed to Meduza by one of Navalny’s lawyers. On June 15, Navalny said in a Telegram post that he was being transferred to Melekhovo’s IK-6 prison, writing, “Hello from a high security zone!”
The lawyer managed to meet with Navalny, who is currently in quarantine, at the new prison.
Now that Navalny is at IK-6, he has begun his nine-year sentence for alleged fraud and contempt of court.
Navalny himself reported that he would be sent to Melekhovo back in early May. “My sentence hasn’t come into effect yet, but inmates at the maximum security prison have reported that a ‘prison within the prison’ is being prepared for me there. They say that if you Google Melekhovo, you’ll find stories of inmates getting their fingernails ripped out,” he wrote.
IK-6 is indeed mentioned in various accounts of prisoners being tortured and in news reports of prisoners’ deaths. According to numerous articles, other penitentiary facilities in the area also have a reputation for being “torture prisons,” including Vladimir Central Prison and IK-3. One of the employees mentioned most often in the articles is Roman Saakyan, who currently leads a prison in the Ivanov region and previously headed IK-6. “In almost every prison in the Vladimir region where Roman Saakyan worked, his name has been mentioned in reports of torture,” Mediazona reported in early 2022.
In 2014, one of Vladimir’s local news networks aired a segment on instances of abuse against inmates in IK-6. The attention on the issue was precipitated by a video showing a rubber baton being pushed against the anus of an inmate tied up with a belt. The heads of the Federal Penitentiary Service’s regional office denied the reports, telling journalists that the video was filmed elsewhere. Kommersant reported that a criminal case was opened after the video came to light, but the outcome is unknown.
In an interview with Navalny associate Lyubov Sobol, Gulagu.net founder Vladimir Osechkin referred to IK-6 as a “torture chamber.” According to numerous testimonies, inmates themselves are involved in the torture, using beatings, threats, and sexual violence to extract confessions from others. When inmates try to file complains, torture and threats are used to force them to drop their statements and give up their right to legal representation.
The YouTube channel Gulagu.net contains several videos about Navalny’s new prison. In one that was published in 2016, an inmate named Artyom Gribanov says through tears that people in masks formed him to retract a testimony against prison employees by forcing him onto a mattress, pulling down his pants, and starting to “poke” him in the anus with a baton. After the video was posted, the head of the prison and two prison employees filed a defamation lawsuit, but the court sided with Gribanov.
In 2021, Mediazona Central Asia reported on the story of Uzbekistan resident Zhobir Zhuraev who, according to his father and his lawyer, was subjected to constant torture and humiliation at IK-6.
That same year, Mediazona published excerpts from a letter written by Ivan Fomin, a convict who served a sentence at IK-6. He said that after humiliation and threats from guards, he started participating in the torture of other inmates along with other “activists” (he was also forced to publicly declare he was denouncing Islam and converting to Orthodoxy). According to his letters, sexual violence was used to force other prisoners to testify against themselves; he specifically describes the beating of a man named Gor. The person in question is Gora Ovakimyan, who was beaten in June 2018 and died shortly after (Mediazona posted a video showing the final minutes of his life. The video was filmed in the IK-3 hospital, where he was transferred from IK-6).
Ovakimyan’s sister told Novaya Gazeta that several days passed before the family learned about his death, and that even five days after it happened, prison officials assured them over the phone that he was “alive and well.” When Ovakimyan’s relatives found his body in the Vladimir morgue, it showed signs of torture.
We took a video in the city morgue: there were traces of an electric shocking device under his armpits, his fingers and toes were broken, his genitals were damaged, there was a huge bruise on his thigh, there was a large black patch on his lower back, and his buttocks were covered in electric shock marks.
Ovakimyan’s official cause of death was listed as pneumonia.
In March 2019, former Akhmad Kadyrov bodyguard Ayub Tuntuyev, convicted of participating in a terrorist attack in Chechnya in 2005 and attacking Russian paratroopers in the 2000s, also died in IK-6. According to Tuntuyev’s lawyers, he confessed to the first crime only after being tortured; prison employees were still trying to get him to confess to the second. One lawyer said that “from the time he entered the prison, [Tuntuyev] constantly reported that [prison employees] were threatening to kill him.” After his death, prison officials stated that he had died by suicide. The Russian Investigative Committee claimed not to have found any wounds on Tuntuyev’s body, but his relatives reported seeing bruises.
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