Perhaps the kindest description of Russia’s infamous IK-2 prison colony is that it is a “friendly concentration camp.”
The damning words came from Alexei Navalny, who became the institution’s most famous prisoner after two and a half years in prison in Ferbuary.
The 45-year-old, who became known as the greatest and sharpest political opponent of Vladimir Putin, fell ill on a flight to Moscow last year and was hospitalized in Germany.
After fighting for his life, the opposition leader claimed he was poisoned with the neurotoxin novichok by Russian spies before returning to the country and controversially arrested for violating his parole terms – despite being in a coma.
Now, a new Channel 4 documentary, The Man Putin Couldn’t Kill, tells Navalny’s incredible story and reveals the stark reality of his life behind bars.
Due to the poisoning, he lost complete control of one leg, was refused medical treatment, and went on a hunger strike for 24 days.
However, sympathy is in short supply in the ruthless prison, where guards allegedly use wooden hammers to attack inmates and specialize in the “sophisticated humiliation of human dignity”.
Lags “forced to make beds and tidy up in meaningless tasks”
IK-2 opened in 1996 and can accommodate almost 800 prisoners at a time.
Located in Russia’s Vladimir region, it welcomed Navalny in February, who compared the scenes to George Orwell’s 1984 novel.
AFP via Getty Images)
“Video cameras are everywhere, everyone is watched and they report the slightest violation,” he said in an Instagram message to his followers.
“I think someone upstairs read Orwell’s nineteen eighty-four and said, ‘Yeah, cool. Let us do this. Education through dehumanization.
“I haven’t seen any violence or even a hint of it, although the tense demeanor of the convicts, who stand at attention and are afraid to turn their heads, makes it easy for me to believe the numerous stories that are here in IK-2 Pokrov “Just recently people were beaten half to death with wooden hammers.”
He added: “This is what I call my new home, our friendly concentration camp.”
Inmates see the prison as a “Red Zone” facility where every minute of their daily life is controlled Reuters.
Tasking lags with pointless, repetitive tasks like making beds and cleaning up beds throughout the day, the punishing schedules are designed to break the mood.
Konstantin Kotov, an opposition political activist who spent 18 months in prison, tells the documentary about the military-like rituals inmates endured during the harsh Russian winters.
“You usually get up at 6 a.m.,” says Kotov. “You go outside and everyone hears the national anthem.
“You have to stand still with your hands behind your back. You are not allowed to turn your head or talk to anyone.
The roll call can last an hour or more. This is how you stand for an hour in the cold or in the heat. It’s really tough physically. “
Activist groups distribute bruises
Former staff and prisoners exposed shocking incidents of violence, sexual assault and psychological abuse in the prison.
“Unless the enemy is inside and they destroy the prisoner as an enemy,” Akir Mirzoyev, who worked for Russia’s federal penal system from 2002 to 2013, told Reuters.
“They destroy the prisoner as an individual and call it the improvement of a person. That is the main goal. “
Guards reportedly beat criminals upon arrival using wooden stool legs to punish minor violations.
The most brutal violence, however, is carried out by groups of “activists” – inmates who work with prison authorities in exchange for privileges such as better food and conjugal visits.
The activists punish petty criminals by hitting their vital organs and avoiding areas that are bruised, such as the face, and are also responsible for ensuring that inmates shave on a daily basis.
Although some prisoners have AIDS or tuberculosis, these shaves are done in a rush with an old razor from a communal pocket that leaves many with cuts, a former inmate told Reuters.
The news agency revealed that in addition to physical punishment, psychological torture was used to crush prisoners’ souls.
Kotov stated that while he was in custody, he was even treated as an outcast by other lags – who were forbidden to speak to him.
“You can forbid other convicts to speak to you as they did to me,” he said.
“Nobody spoke to me for most of my imprisonment.”
Anna Ustinova / TASS)
Radu Pelin, a construction worker who started his prison sentence in 2019, said activisti wrote down all conversations with a blacklisted prisoner in a notebook – and would take “beating” those who break the rules.
“A person’s psyche breaks down after they sit in jail for six months, a year, or two years – and they don’t talk to anyone,” he added.
Navlany’s health is faltering behind bars
While former inmates speculated that Nawalny’s “celebrity” status could save him the harshest treatment, his stay at IK-2 has nonetheless proven eventful.
He was convicted after a court ruled that he had violated the terms of a suspended prison sentence while in a coma – which sparked an outcry from supporters and the West.
AFP via Getty Images)
Since his imprisonment, Navalny has complained of numbness and back pain and insisted that he was not treated properly by the prison doctors.
“I am losing sensation in areas of my arms and legs and I want to understand what it is and how to treat it,” he said before going on a 24-day hunger strike in April.
In the new documentary, Christo Grozev, chief investigator for Russia at Bellingcat, who first linked the attack on Navalny to state agents, suggests that his treatment in prison could ultimately prove “fatal”.
“What we are seeing now is that he is in prison with seriously deteriorating health,” says Grozev.
“Some of the symptoms we see are neurological symptoms. He cannot feel his right leg, he cannot control the muscles in his right leg.
“But because the Russian authorities refuse to acknowledge his poisoning at all, doctors are not even allowed to take this previous poisoning into account when diagnosing what is wrong with him now.
“That is a criminal in itself – and can be fatal.”
The man Putin failed to kill airs on Channel 4 at 10 p.m. tonight. Do you have a story Contact us by email [email protected]