Our new project: Write to Russia

In this new section of our website we shall be helping people write letters of support to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in places of detention in Russia.

Letters of support from the outside world mean a great deal to these prisoners. For example, Grigory Pasko, recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, said on his release in 2003 that he he had received over 500 letters from supporters while in prison. ‘I want to tell them how important it was to have that support and know people were thinking about me,’ he said. Prisoner of conscience Konstantin Kotov on his release spoke about how important it was for him to receive letters while in prison: ‘I’m not just being polite, they [the letters] really did help me. Imagine: all day you have the same kind of regimented activities, inspections etc, and then a letter comes from outside – and of course it is encouraging and helps you to gather strength, regardless of the unpleasant conditions.

We shall provide information about political prisoners / prisoners of conscience using the definitions of political prisoner used by Memorial, itself based on the definition developed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in PACE Resolution #1900 (2012), and the definition of prisoner of conscience used by Amnesty International (the organisation is currently reviewing its use of the term following the reinstatement of Aleksei Navalny as a prisoner of conscience).

The Options

In practical terms, letters to prisoners in Russia need to be written in Russian only. There are two main options on how to send a letter to a prisoner in Russia:

  • Via the official, state-run online service FSIN-pismo (‘Federal Penitentiary Service-letter’) for which a Russian bank card is required to pay for the service and no foreign cards are accepted. By law letters must be in Russian.
  • Via regular mail with the name and address of the recipient written in Russian on the envelope. 

Strictly speaking, prisoners are formally allowed to receive letters written in foreign languages. However, the censorship process will take longer because of the need for translation. Here a great deal will depend on the individual censor – who might not want to be bothered spending time on translation at all. For this reason it is better to send a letter written in Russian – there are more chances it will get through!

How ‘Write to Russia’ will work:

  • every week we shall publish information about one selected political prisoner / prisoner of conscience, with information about how to write to them.
  • if you wish to choose another political prisoner / prisoner of conscience to whom to write, you can find many via our website by doing a search for ‘political prisoner’ or ‘prisoner of conscience’. Other sources of information include the websites of Memorial, OVD-Info, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
  • send us by email a letter written by you to the prisoner at: letters-to-prisoners@protonmail.com
  • we translate the letter
  • we shall either, depending on your request, (a) mail the translated letter on your behalf to the prisoner or (b) return the letter to you for posting in an envelope with an address written in Russian.
  • if you prefer to sign your letter using a pseudonym that is up to you.
  • currently postage for a letter to Russia from the UK is £2.50 ($3.14; €2.92). We would ask you to make a donation to support this work. The easiest way might be via PayPal [the address is: payments@rightsinrussia.org]. For more options about donating to support our work please see here: How to donate. Of course you are welcome to donate more than the sum required for the letter.

For further information we also suggest you visit the excellent site of the Russian-Canadian Democratic Alliance which has a great deal of information about how to send letters to Russian political prisoners.

You can also find information on the website of Memorial:

If you are abroad, send a postcard from there. I’ve had cards from Germany, Hungary, Sweden and even Australia. With the stamps and frank marks to prove it! It’s really cool. Even my cellmates and censor were impressed! At the end of the day, just write words of encouragement. Political prisoners are very sentimental people. It’s better to write at least two lines than to write nothing at all.

Daniel Kholodny [currently serving eight years for working for Navalny’s organisation], Political Prisoners. Memorial

And the website of OVD-Info:

Writing letters is one of the best ways you can support the ever-growing number of political prisoners in Russia. Letters help prisoners to maintain hope and resilience in hopeless situations.

OVD-Info

Some guidance for letters to Russian political prisoners

Letters from abroad are intended to cheer and encourage prisoners by providing pictures of ordinary life outside their prison walls. It serves no purpose to commiserate about their dreadful situation; rather, your role is as a friendly person chatting about ordinary life. It might help to think of your letter as falling into three sections:

I. Begin by mentioning that you heard about this particular prisoner on the news. This tells the prisoner they have not been forgotten, and it makes an impression on the censor and the penitentiary system. Go on to introduce yourself and where you are located. Then you might say a few words about Russian literature, art, music, or film. Or talk about your hobbies, what music and movies you like, the peculiarities of media in the States or the UK, or a book you’ve read, though be careful not to mention any books that have been banned by Putin recently, in order not to irritate censors. 

II. Add your own news, a funny story, or a curious fact. You might tell a story about a trip to a museum or some other outing. Or relate a recent news story that does not bear directly on Russia. Or share a story from your childhood. Again, these are just suggestions.

III. Close with general good wishes.


Our email again: letters-to-prisoners@protonmail.com

We look forward to hearing from you!


Update: Our project Write to Russia has so far highlighted the unjust imprisonment of the following persons:

  1. Sasha (Aleksandra) Skochilenko – imprisoned for peaceful anti-war protest – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-2/
  2. Mikhail Zhilin – imprisoned for refusing to fight against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-3/
  3. Aleksei Arbuzenko – imprisoned for protesting the war against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-4/
  4. Aleksei Navalny – imprisoned for peaceful participation in electoral politics – died in custody – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-5/
  5. Evgeny Zinich- imprisoned for his faith – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-6/
  6. Alsu Kurmasheva – held on remand for her work as a journalist – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-7/
  7. Bakhrom Khamroev – imprisoned for his political and religious beliefs and human rights work – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-8
  8. Andrei Kapatsyna – imprisoned for his religious beliefs and refusing to fight in Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-9
  9. Gregory Vinter – imprisoned for speaking out about the killings in Bucha and Irpen – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-10
  10. Aleksei Gorinov – imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-11/
  11. Vladimir Kara-Murza – imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-12/
  12. Darya Poliudova – imprisoned for exercising her right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-13/
  13. Ilya Yashin – Ilya Yashin – imprisoned for speaking out about Russian war crimes in Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-14/
  14. Appaz Kurtamet – imprisoned on fabricated charges of ‘financing an illegal armed group’ by a Russian-controlled court in occupied Crimea – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-15/
  15. Vyacheslav Malakhov – remanded in custody for criticising Putin for launching the war against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-16/
  16. Maria Ponomarenko – imprisoned for sharing information about the Russian attack on the Mariupol theatre – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-17/
  17. Grigory Melkonyants – held on remand for his work monitoring elections – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-18/
  18. Daniil Stepanov – imprisoned for anti-war ‘vandalism’ and ‘cooperation with ‘foreign organisations’ – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-19/
  19. Evgenia Berkovich – a theatre director held on remand on charges of ‘justifying terrorism’ in violation of the right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-20/
  20. Svetlana Petriychuk – a playwright held on remand on charges of ‘justifying terrorism’ in violation of the right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-21
  21. Oleg Orlov – prominent human rights defender imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-22/

Each week we add at least one new name to our list of addressees


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