Team 29: ✊ Freedom from the virus

4 April 2020

Hi, Natasha Korchenkova

During these challenging days and weeks, when whole countries are stuck in lockdown, it’s worth pointing out those who are now most vulnerable.  That’s prisoners in remand centres and prison colonies. They live in overcrowded cells and barracks, cut off from access to adequate healthcare and, paradoxically, although they’re in isolation, denied the possibility of real isolation.

While many governments are trying to relieve the pressure on detention facilities as much as possible to save people’s lives (even in Iran, 85,000 prisoners have been released!), the Russian authorities, running scared, won’t even countenance such rampant liberalism.

Fortunately, contrary to the fears of human rights defenders, and much speculation, lawyers have not yet been denied access to their clients.  For them, ‘special access arrangements’ have been introduced, and they can visit remand centres whilst wearing a mask and rubber gloves. Yesterday, in near-apocalyptic conditions, our lawyers Ivan Pavlov and Evgeny Smirnov paid a visit to their clients in Lefortovo.

In an episode of our ‘Isolation’ podcast, Evgeny Smirnov tells us that it is technically impossible to create truly safe conditions for remand prisoners and their defence lawyers at short notice.  Have a listen to this episode, in which we asked the experts what would happen if human rights activists were stopped from coming in, whether remand prisoners could count on getting help from civilian doctors if they became ill, and whether the Federal Penitentiary Service system is even capable of controlling the spread of the virus.

Our client Viktor Kudryavtsev, a 76-year-old academic who is charged with treason and has cancer, is, mercifully, not currently in detention, but at his home.  Thanks to you, in December, we raised enough money to get him access to treatment. After several months’ therapy, the tumour shrank, and Kudryavtsev is feeling a lot better. He tells us about his health.

Another of our clients, Gennady Kravtsov, is now just two months away from release.  However, this week, we learned that he’d been sent to a punishment cell, initially for seven days, and then 12 more were added.  Kravtsov has spent six years in Mordovia Prison Colony No. 5 because he sent a Swedish organisation his CV, in which he mentioned his work experience and, as the FSB would have it, disclosed classified information.  We put in a request to the Federal Penitentiary Service to find out on what basis he was placed in these tortuous conditions.

In an effort to escape all the terrible news, this week, our lawyers recorded a fab video in which they tell us what the new Constitution will be like, and what it might have been like.  The tape turned out to be quite zeitgeisty, by which I mean off-the-scale absurd. Sadly, however, much of it was no joke.  I suggest that you take a look. You see, the pandemic will come to an end, and we’ll have to live with the new Basic Law for longer, but for how long, no one knows.

Look after yourselves!

Natasha & Team 29

Translated by Lindsay Munford

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