Podcast Then & Now #15: Teresa Cherfas in conversation with Anna Karetnikova

12 February 2024

by Teresa Cherfas

Welcome to the fifteenth edition of our Russian-language podcast Then & Now with me, Teresa Cherfas. 


My guest today is Anna Karetnikova. Until recently, Anna Karetnikova lived and worked in Moscow.  In 2016, she was appointed lead analyst to the Federal Penitentiary Service – FSIN. Prior to that, she served for eight years as a member of the Public Oversight Commission (POC) in Moscow and worked closely with the human rights organisation “Memorial”.

Anna Karetnikova exemplified that rare combination in Russia of someone who was both a human rights activist and a government-appointed official working for the FSIN. For several years she pulled this off brilliantly. But just over a year ago, she was forced to leave Russia. The events that led to this decision and how she feels about life in exile are among the topics we will be talking about.

This podcast was recorded on 8 February 2024.

You can also listen to the podcast here:

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My questions include:

  1. Before your appointment to the Federal Penitentiary Service, you worked in the Public Oversight Commission in Moscow. What were the functions of this commission and how did your work there lead to your appointment to the Federal Penitentiary Service?
  2. Did you have any interests or occupations from a young age which helped you decide to take up this kind of work?
  3. How did it happen that you were invited to join the FSIN? What did  your work there involve?  Is it true there is no such position as lead analyst in any other regional branch of the FSIN?
  4. How does the system of corresponding with political prisoners work? Do they really receive letters of support from people they don’t know? Do the authorities still allow this?
  5. Unlike many of your colleagues, acquaintances and friends in human rights organizations, you stayed in Russia after the Special Military Operation was launched on February 24th 2022? Was leaving Russia not an issue for you at that time?
  6. What changed in the FSIN system that prompted you to decide to leave Russia almost a year later?
  7. What was your reaction when you learned about the recruitment of lifers in the penal system to the Wagner private military company? What did it say about the attitude of the authorities both to the war and to society as a whole?
  8. What changes did you observe in the FSIN and in the regime to prisons and penal colonies after the start of the war?
  9. And in the treatment of prisoners? Were there problems, for example, with supplies? Or other issues? xould they still correspond with relatives and have visits from them?
  10. Would you say the numbers of political prisoners has increased since the start of the war?
  11. With your experience and knowledge of the penal system in Russia, what can you comment about the treatment of Aleksei Navalny in the penal colony? To what extent does his treatment differ from the treatment of other prisoners? And how?
  12. And Vladimir Kara-Murza? Could you comment on his recent transfer to the correctional colony No. 7 Omsk. 
  13. You currently live in France. Why France?
  14. How do you see your future?  And the future of Russia?

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