OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 329: 236 days in a punishment cell

28 October 2023

OVD-Info is a Russian civil society organisation that monitors politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions in Russia. Each week OVD-Info publishes a bulletin with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

Illustration: solvejg_art for OVD-Info


Hi there! A resident of the Moscow region was given a six-year sentence for state treason, an editor of Radio Liberty was placed in a pre-trial detention centre, a 19-year-old Irkutsk activist was given a 12 year prison sentence, and Aleksei Navalny was sent to a punishment cell for the 21st time.

A court in Vladikavkaz sentenced Savely Frolov, a resident of the Moscow Region, to six years in a strict regime penal colony for preparation of state treason. The young man was also sentenced to two years’ restricted liberty and a fine of 100,000 roubles. According to the investigation, he tried to leave Russia for Georgia in order to get to Turkey, from there to Poland and further – to Ukraine, to join the Free Russia Legion and participate in military operations against the Russian Federation. The reason for the initiation of the criminal case was correspondence mentioning the legion, as well as personal belongings seized from him. Frolov reported being tortured and threatened.

  • Why does it matter? The Free Russia Legion is a military unit of the Ukrainian armed forces, formed mainly from Russian prisoners of war and volunteers. In March 2023, the Russian Supreme Court declared the organisation a terrorist organisation and banned its activities. Information about prosecutions related to the Legion comes mainly from law enforcement officials. Their reports often mention the tasks allegedly received by the defendants through correspondence via Telegram: arson, distribution of leaflets or data transfer. Most often, such cases refer exclusively to the “intention” to commit certain actions.

Alsu Kurmasheva, the editor of the Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Liberty, was placed in a pre-trial detention centre. Kurmasheva was detained in Kazan on 18 October. The prosecution believes she gathered military information that foreign sources could use against Russian security and failed to provide the Ministry of Justice with documents to include her in the register of ‘foreign agents’ in this regard. Law enforcement claims that Kurmasheva received some information about the lecturers of one of Tatarstan’s universities, who has been drafted into the army. For many years, the journalist has been covering ethnic minority issues in Russia’s Volga-Ural region and advocating preservation of the Tatar language. Kurmasheva holds Russian and American citizenship, lives in Prague and came to Russia in May for family reasons.

  • Why do I need to know this? Legislation on ‘foreign agents’ is getting stricter every year, but Kurmasheva’s case is the first case under Part 3 of the article of the Russian Criminal Code introduced in the 2022 amendment of ‘foreign agent’ legislation. In autumn 2021, OVD-Info launched the Inoteka project. We study the practice of application of laws on ‘foreign agents’, explain their impact on civil society and specific people, initiate discussions with experts and suggest possible amendments. At the same time, the case against Alsu Kurmasheva can also be considered in the context of pressure on Russian and foreign journalists. For example, in March a case of espionage was opened against the American journalist Evan Gershkovich. He was sent to a pre-trial detention centre. The journalist interviewed Ekaterinburg residents about the public’s attitude towards the Wagner military organisation. According to the investigation, he was ‘engaged in collecting information about one of the enterprises of the Russian Military Industrial Complex.’ The Russian authorities are trying to deprive the world of access to independent information about what is happening in Russia.

For the twenty-first time, politician Aleksei Navalny was sent to a punishment cell in Penal Colony No. 6 in Vladimir region. The basis for this was a report by a prison officer: ‘when taking the convict Navalny out of the cell to get a mattress, he humiliated my personal dignity, saying that I was an idiot, a donkey and a devil.’ Now the total term that the politician will have spent in punitive confinement since August 2022 is 236 days. For the rest of the time since September he has been kept in a single cell-type facility. Being in a punishment cell has a bad effect on the health of the prisoner. Navalny has been in custody since January 2021.

  • Why does it matter? Isolation of prisoners is one of the ways to put additional pressure on them. To put a person in a punishment cell, you technically need a reason, such as a violation of internal regulations. But in reality, prisoners are placed there for far-fetched reasons. In 2023, political prisoners spent a total of more than a thousand days in punishment cells. Many are sent there several times, sometimes consecutively.

Ilya Podkamenny, a 19-year-old Irkutsk activist, was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment. He will have to spend the first three years in a cell-type prison and the rest of the term in a strict regime penal colony. The young man was detained in November 2022 for appeals to extremism because of leaflets attached to railway tracks. A month later, the young man was charged with two more offences for preparing and organising a terrorist attack. According to law enforcement officers, he was going to set fire to the military recruitment office in the village of Dzerzhinsk. In September 2023, it became known that Podkamenny was also being charged with appeals to extremism on the Internet, justification of terrorism and training for the purpose of terrorist activity.

  • Why do I need to know this? Since the beginning of the full-scale war against Ukraine, arson attacks on military commissions and administrative buildings, as well as sabotage of railway lines, have been taking place in various Russian cities. Often the defendants in such cases are first charged with intentional destruction of property, and then the charge is reclassified to a more serious one – a terrorist attack. However, in none of the cases we know of were there any casualties or any significant damage.


“Hell in hell” and torture by cold: people prosecuted for political reasons continue to be sent to punishment cells. What is ‘punitive confinement’? What restrictions do those who are sent there face? And what is the worst thing about punitive confinement? We tell the most important things about this method of pressure and share the stories of political prisoners – in the new edition of our YouTube show What Now and in our new article.

20 months of war. OVD-Info continues to collect and analyse data on prosecutions for anti-war views in Russia and on the territory of annexed Crimea.

Translated by Ecaterina Hughes

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