28 September 2021
by Lev Ponomarev, human rights activist, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
The FOLLOWING MESSAGE (CONTENT) WAS CREATED AND DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND/OR A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT
Twenty-three days ago, Maksim Ivankin, who had been convicted in the Network case, disappeared from Penal Colony No. 9 of the Chuvash Republic. All this time his whereabouts have been concealed from his relatives and lawyers, and false information had been issued regarding his location.
Thus, according to official responses from the Federal Penitentiary Service, he had allegedly been held in Remand Centre No. 2 in Rybinsk, in Remand Centre No. 12 in Zelenograd, in Remand Centre No. 4 and No. 10 in Mozhaisk, and even in Remand Centre No. 1 in Yaroslavl. When his relatives and lawyers arrived at these establishments, they were immediately informed that there was not, and never had been, any such prisoner there.
As a result, Maksim’s wife Anna Shalunkina devised a system for finding her husband: she sent letters bearing his name via the Federal Penitentiary Mail Service to correctional institutions – somewhere they will answer, and they will say, he is with us, he has been transferred to us. And indeed, they responded. But almost simultaneously – almost within two hours of each other – he was in both Rybinsk and Mozhaisk. The system worked like clockwork. Or maybe better. Here are their (identical) replies:
By 24 September, it had been very reliably established that Maksim Ivankin was in Penal Colony No. 3 in the Vladimir region. A lawyer tried to visit him. But after two hours of waiting, there was no refutation, nor confirmation of this information.
Yesterday, Anna Shalunkina went to Penall Colony No. 3 to deliver a parcel and to arrange a visit. And that’s where things became rather interesting.
This is how Anna describes what happened next:
The member of staff who receives parcels and applications for visits, stopped work as soon as he heard the name Ivankin. People in the queue began to complain, a small child of one of the visitors cried periodically. Visitors rang the bell in the reception area without success at Penal Colony No. 3 to request that someone come and deal with the visitors. All that could be heard were the calls to a landline phone behind the window for receiving applications and the staff member’s replies to them.
Two hours later, the officer opened the little window and asked, “What’s your husband’s name? Ivankin?” And he started to leaf through the records of the inmates of Penal Colony No. 3 inmates. While they had an Ivankin, he say, no visits were allowed because his record had been collected, as Ivankin was probably about to leave. I said, “So, probably, or he is leaving? If he isn’t, then please accept my visit request”. The officer disappears again to clarify things. The window opens, “He’s leaving. He’s at the collection point, which is why there’s no record”.
After this, I went to the administration building to get a meeting with the head of the penal colony. I call the receptionist and say that I need an appointment with the governor. “Hold on. I’ll come down and get you”. A young woman arrives, and we go up to the first floor. She takes my passport and asks on the way, “Do you really need to see him? The governor himself?”
I go into the office and explain the situation. Just as at the window for receiving parcels, this person keeps asking for the surname as if he doesn’t understand who I’m talking about, “An Ivankin, you say…” He calls someone and tells me, “Ok, he’s at the collection point. He’s leaving”. He refused to tell me where he was going. I never found out who it was that I spoke to. He was an officer wearing a normal blue Federal Penitentiary Service uniform.
I go back to the requests counter and ask for my request to be accepted and that if I’m told I can’t have a visit, then they should make a note on my request: rejected owing to departure of the prisoner. The officer closes the little window, rings someone, consults with them for ages, opens the hatch again, and refuses to accept my request. He says I should take it to the clerk’s office and fill out a request there. I refuse to go to the clerk’s office since they don’t accept visit requests there; this, I tell him, is where requests are accepted. So, would he kindly accept it, have it signed, and, if I’m refused, then can whoever signs visit requests note the reason for the refusal. The officer again shuts himself off and has another long phone call with someone. I wait. He opens the window, thrusts out the request, which is rolled up into a tube so you can’t see what’s written on it, and says, “Young lady, take the request”. I say, “What’s written on it?”, and he replies, “Take it!” I unravel the request, and there’s no note on it. I refuse to take it, to which the officer responds that he isn’t taking it anywhere, thrusts the request at me, and shuts the window.
I return to the administration building and approach the telephone. An employee came out through the door using a magnetic key, and from outside a woman was walking towards him. He says to her, motioning towards me with his head, “Don’t let her in. Have her wait for them to come down for her.” He goes outside and walks backwards to the building across the way, watching to make sure that, God forbid, I don’t sneak in behind the woman entering. I call the receptionist again to ask them to accept the appeal. “Please wait, I’ll be right down” is the response I get. I wait. Through the door with the magnetic key system I see the secretary from before coming down the stairs with another employee, and I hear how he instructs her not to take anything from me if I’m here about Ivankin.
The woman stubbornly refuses to take the request form and sends me back to the window for request forms and parcels. But I don’t back down and she eventually takes it. She says, “I’ll take it, but my boss is not here at the moment, so you’ll have to wait.” I wait. As I wait, I call the Commissioner for Human Rights in Vladimir Oblast. And I wait again. I call reception again to clarify the status of my request. Again I’m told to wait. So I say, “Please take my phone number and call me when your boss is back.” Their response: “I’m not authorized to do that.” “So then,” I reply, “what am I supposed to do — wait outside the whole time, or in this closet with the phone?” The woman answers, saying yes, that’s all she can offer me. “Wait here, don’t go anywhere — someone will sort this out shortly.” Five minutes later she comes down, shoves my paperwork into my hands (it has something written on it), and runs off. I read it.
“Denied, due to the departure of the convict” and a signature that reads “S.E.” No seal, no name or title of the employee who signed it. Nothing that made it an official document. Just something scribbled by the first available person around, so I’d go away and leave them alone.”
Today, Maksim’s lawyer tried again to visit him at penal colony No. 3. He waited two hours for his request form to be signed. The form was signed, the authorisation was accepted, and a pass was issued. But he wasn’t let in. All of the investigation rooms were occupied.
This story shows how the Federal Penitentiary Service works like a well-oiled machine. A machine intended not to protect prisoners’ rights, but to grossly violate them. I know of numerous prisoners who were interrogated without lawyers and beaten and subjected to brutal violence.
Many prisoners in Russia, like Maksim Ivankin, are coming face-to-face with the system. I hope that this and my previous publication have convinced readers that the system needs a massive overhaul.
P.S. If only it could be reformed under this government.
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