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Zoya Svetova writes an Open Letter to Ella Pamfilova on the case of Oleg Navalny (Ekho Moskvy)

posted 29 Oct 2015, 09:57 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Oct 2015, 13:09 ]
20 October 2015 

By Zoya Svetova, journalist, member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Committee, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for the defence of human rights: 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group 

Original source: Ekho Moskvy

Open letter to the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Ella Aleksandrovna Pamfilova 

I am forced to address this request to the chief human rights defender in the country - simply because there is no one else to turn to. 

Oleg Navalny, who with the consent of the head of Penal Colony No. 5 in Orel region wrote a column for The New Times magazine, has been placed in solitary confinement in a punishment cell for 15 days. 

The column, entitled 'Potemkin Prison' was announced on Sunday evening, the magazine ent on sale on the morning of Monday, 19 October, and in the afternoon came the news that Oleg Navalny had been dispatched to solitary confinement. The official reason is that they found prohibited items. The last time they put Oleg in solitary confinement (for "disrupting the daily routine"), it followed an announcement by his brother, Aleksei Navalny, that a rally was to be organised for free and fair elections. 

On 27 October Oleg Navalny was to have had a long meeting with his wife and son. It is now unlikely to happen. 

They might ask me: what can even the most senior human rights defender in the country do if the management of the colony has decided that Oleg Navalny disrupted routine life in the colony and kept prohibited items, i.e. that he deserved solitary confinement? 

I think the Human Rights Ombudsperson could send a mission to this colony to conduct an assessment because this is a warning sign: if one can, just like that, dispatch a prisoner to solitary confinement immediately after his article appears in a magazine, the publication of which had the prior approval of the management of the colony (the publishing contract between The New Times magazine and Oleg Navalny was presented to the Penal Colony No. 5 in Orel region – and the contract was similar to one that Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Maria Alekhina signed with the magazine), then what can you do to other people in this colony, whom nobody has heard about? 

We know of several such cases. In October 2008, seven years ago, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was put in a punishment cell in the Chita remand prison where he was then held after his correspondence with Boris Akunin appeared in Esquire magazine. 

Sending an undesirable prisoner off to be incarcerated or placed in solitary confinement is a favourite pastime of prison bosses. Normally, placing someone in isolation like that goes unchallenged. 

One day, when I arrived at Mordovia Penal Colony No. 18 at the request of prisoners who had been beaten there, listened to their complaints, and then went to visit Zara Murtazalieva at the women's colony, I was told that she had been sent to solitary confinement literally an hour before my arrival - they had found a sharp instrument in her bed. 

When they let Zara out, she told me that she had seen them plant the sharp instrument. She took the case to court in an attempt to challenge her placement in solitary confinement, but nothing came of it: all the witnesses - her neighbours in her wing - refused to testify. 

And now today, when everything seems futile and Oleg Navalny has to sit out 15 days in solitary confinement, I appeal to you, Ella Aleksandrovna, to send your officials to the village of Naryshkino and Penal Colony No. in Orel region. Have them investigate the situation. 

Could it just be that Oleg Navalny's column "Potemkin prison" has nothing to do with it? That he really is an inveterate rule breaker? 

Or could it simply be that this all happened precisely because of what he wrote in his column: "Convicts don't like Putin or the government; they curse them using strong words that are sometimes new to me. Having said that, nearly all of them support Russia's policy in Ukraine and in Crimea... But then the opinion of staff who work in the correctional facilities is shifting little by little. The fly of redundancies and slashed bonuses is steadily spoiling the so recently sweet ointment of patriotism. 

Translated by Lindsay Munford