One day in the prison life of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny

Polina Nikolskaya and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
·5-min read

By Polina Nikolskaya and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has said that being woken up by a guard every hour during the night amounts to torture and that his appeal to be treated for acute back and leg pain was refused in a deliberate attempt to run him down.

The 44-year-old opposition politician, one of President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critics, was handed a jail term of around 2-1/2 years last month in connection with a case he says was fabricated to thwart his political activities.

The West, including the European Court of Human Rights, has demanded Russia release Navalny. Moscow has called such appeals unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.

Navalny is being held in a heightened security sector at the IK-2 prison camp in Pokrov, a town about 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow.

This, according to two of his own accounts published on Instagram this month and those of two previous inmates interviewed by Reuters on the phone, is what his daily routine looks like.

Russia's federal prison service, the local branch in the Vladimir region where Navalny is being held, and the specific prison camp where he is incarcerated did not immediately respond to questions about the daily routine he and others face.

The Federal Penitentiary Service said on Thursday that Navalny's health was stable and satisfactory.

He was arrested as he returned to Russia from Germany in January, where he had been recovering from what doctors said was a nerve agent poisoning.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Russian citizens held in foreign jails faced far worse conditions than Navalny, who in one Instagram post dubbed his prison "our friendly concentration camp".

PATRIOTIC WAKE-UP

Prison guards wake inmates at 0600, according to Navalny, who says prisoners are played the Russian national anthem before their morning exercise routine.

"Imagine the area around the barracks. Snow. Men in black prison uniforms, boots and fur hats are standing in the dark with their hands behind their back, with a loudspeaker atop a high pillar blaring: 'Be glorious, our free Fatherland'," Navalny said in an Instagram message posted via his lawyers.

Speaking by phone to Reuters, Dmitry Dyomushkin, a nationalist released from the same prison in 2019, said inmates in the heightened security sector are given two minutes to dress and another two minutes to make their beds. The last two prisoners to be fully dressed are punished, sometimes with beatings, according to Dyomushkin.

STAR WARS FITNESS

Navalny said the morning fitness routine involved a voice from a loudspeaker instructing inmates to march on the spot.

"At that moment I imagine that I am part of a Russian remake of Star Wars," Navalny said.

MORNING WASH

Inmates then return to the barracks. Some stand in line to wash, use the bathroom or be shaved by one of the inmates who have joined forces with the guards to enforce the rules, Dyomushkin, the nationalist, said.

"Your hands are always behind your back," he told Reuters. "You walk up to them, lift your head and they shave you within a minute or 40 seconds."

BREAKFAST

Served at 0630, breakfast consists of porridge in metal bowls and sweet tea in metal mugs, Navalny said.

"When you are done with breakfast, you stand up and show your hands," Dyomushkin said. "It's forbidden to take food away."

Prison staff then do a roll call, a process Dyomushkin said required prisoners to generally remain standing for two hours.

Speaking by phone, Gleb Drobilenko, another previous inmate, spoke of frequent roll-calls during the day when prisoners had to stand for hours and said a group of up to 15 of them was forced to make and remake everyone's bed after breakfast for hours.

Others, he said, were made to dust and move furniture from one side of the barracks to another to kill time.

LAWYER VISIT

A lawyer visits Navalny every weekday, but his legal team say they are made to wait for three or four hours outside beforehand and only allowed short visits.

LUNCH AND DINNER

Lunch is soup, usually made with leftovers from the morning's porridge, as well as a potato and some chicken or pork, Dyomushkin said.

Dinner brings another potato and a piece of herring or meat.

After lunch, Drobilenko said inmates are taken into a room and made to do synchronised physical exercises. Some of them faint, he said. Prison officers sometimes also deliver short lectures, he said.

ENTERTAINMENT

From 1700, staff turn on the TV for one hour so inmates can watch the news or educational programmes on state-run channels, according to Dyomushkin, who says guards try to ensure prisoners remain on their feet as much as possible rather than sit down.

SLEEP

Inmates turn in for the night after washing their feet and socks and being checked for bruises by prison staff.

"It's forbidden to close your eyes before 2200," Dyomushkin said. "The vigilantes (inmates who cooperate with the authorities) walk around and make sure no one has closed their eyes."

Navalny says he is woken up every hour at night because he has been deemed a flight risk.

Once an hour, a man approaches his bed, films him and wakes him up even though there is a CCTV camera in his cell, he said.

"Then I peacefully fall back asleep with the thought that there are people who remember me and will never lose me which is great right?" Navalny said sarcastically in one message.

(Additional reporting by Anton Zverev; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Giles Elgood)