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“It’s long overdue”. Olga Romanova on what’s been happening at Russia Behind Bars [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 11 Dec 2017, 03:09 by Website Service   [ updated 11 Dec 2017, 03:25 ]

8 November 2017 

By Olga Romanova, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s award for defending human rights 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source, Radio Echo Moskvy

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service is the natural enemy of humankind.

As the world knows, a penitentiary system is intended to deal with the shortcomings in the way society and the State function. It is supposed to put those who have erred back on the true path, and to try cure criminals. When it proves impossible to change offenders, the main goal of the penitentiary system is to lower the level of crime in society (re-offending, in other words) and to make us all safer.

Those are empty words, of course, to our Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS). Russia’s FPS is engaged in quite other matters and it would take some time to describe them – the scandals and acts of criminal behaviour are too numerous to mention.

Someone must be to blame. And who do you think the FPS holds responsible?

O.E. Romanova. Yes, I’m to blame.

Denounced by the FPS

At the end of March 2017, the deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Comrade A.A. Rudy, previously a major in the missile troops, denounced me in private for embezzling vast amounts of budgetary funds. In early June, the accountant’s office at Russia Behind Bars was thoroughly searched. We are always prepared for such investigation, and record everything as accurately as they do in a pharmacy.

Our organization was founded nine years ago; in a few days, we will celebrate its anniversary. All this time, we have relied on two sources of income: fundraising, which provides almost 90% of our budget, and [commercial] work on contract. Money raised from fundraising is paid into the accounts of the “Charitable Fund in Aid of the Convicted and Their Families”. That is one organization. The other is RBB Ltd [Russia Behind Bars, Rus Sidyashchaya], of which I am general director and the only trustee.

Once a year the company faces an independent audit. RBR Ltd earns money for Russia Behind Bars and transfers its profits to the Charitable Fund as a contribution from myself, its one and only trustee. RBB Ltd works on contract with organisations conducting public opinion polls, helping to carry out sociological surveys among prisoners, their relatives and those who have served their sentences. Or, for example, we called in major specialists and submitted proposals for penitentiary reform in Russia to the Centre for Strategic Policy, headed by Alexei Kudrin [former Minister of Finance].

We concluded a contract with the World Bank to study the need for prisoners and their families to receive basic training in how to manage their money. We wrote brochures about how to pay alimony, to receive pensions, to pay rent, and how to deal with creditors if you are taken to court. We have given hundreds of lectures to relatives of prisoners, the prisoners themselves and to staff in the Penitentiary Service. Lecturers were hired, their lectures were recorded, and photos were always taken

Why am I giving all these details? Because A.A. Rudy of the Federal Penitentiary Service accused us in writing of taking money for lectures we never delivered. That was foolish of him. Apart from physical recordings of the talks, our lectures were reviewed on diocesan websites, with which we also work: what useful lectures they were, wrote a reviewer, and what excellent lecturers.

Moving abroad while I was still able

There is one thing I know for sure, however. To prove convincingly that you are not to blame, you had better not be at liberty at that moment. Immediately after our office was searched I moved abroad.

I have no property there, or in Russia. I didn’t have a foreign residence permit, only an ordinary European visa, and a certain amount of anxiety. Throughout the summer of 2017 I lived in France and Italy, relying on the kindness of my friends, to whom I am very grateful. At the same time, I fought back and considered, What next?

When I had stayed for as long as permitted in the European Union, I was offered work by a respected German charity. I accepted, of course, and since 1 September 2017 I’ve been living in Germany.

Only this year did I begin to draw a salary at Russia Behind Bars, 20,000 roubles a month (17,000 after tax). I have now written to RBB, saying I shall be on vacation at my own expense.

Fighting back

Every day, of course, I take full part in the work of Russia Behind Bars.

As usual, our lawyers at RBB were brilliant. We took the representatives and managers of the World Bank in Russia to court. We had met and overfulfilled the plan for lectures and brochures, and here were the documents to prove it. Then we asked naively: Why don’t you pay us overtime? The court brought in third parties to our contracts, held a hearing and reached the right decision: you met all the terms of the contract, guys, and none of your partners have any objections -- everyone is happy.

We wanted to show in court that everything is OK. Yes, it’s all OK.

Now we can file a claim against the Federal Penitentiary Service and expose the false denunciation made by Rudy, which is a criminal offence. Of course, to get as far as that false denunciation and initiate proceedings we have some way to go, but everything went in accordance with the rules. The Federal Penitentiary Service did not respond: we went to court. The hearing should have been held on 6 December this year.

I very much wanted to return and take part in the trial myself. That didn't happen. After all the checks and inspections, the danger had not lessened.

A dilemma

I am probably the last Russian who would like to live abroad.

Russia Behind Bars is my whole life. The organization is doing very well without me, which is a joy. It’s as though I’m watching it go on working after my death. It’s been worth the effort. RBB will continue to work. But I’d like to go back to Russia.

I had enough time; I made my preparations. All the documents are in order and everything will be published here in Germany and on the RBB website, no matter what happens to me. This coming week, perhaps, we shall begin to post everything online. It’s long overdue. I really want to go home. I should have I visited Siberia by now, and Mordovia — and not as one of your prisoners, Comrade Rudy of the Federal Penitentiary Service. He will have to face the music, not concerning my case, probably, but for certain of his other schemes. I’m happy about that.

One more thing. This summer we were awarded a presidential grant. We decided not to accept it – it’s too highly contaminated. Dear organisers of the presidential grants office: Remember Sofia Apfelbaum [theatre director under house arrest as part of the Serebrennikov case, tr.]. I’m worried about you, and No, you don’t need to thank me.

The lawyer Alkhas Abradzhava is working on my behalf; so is Alexei Fedyarov, the head of the law department at Russia Behind Bars.

Translation by Rose Glickman