Putin's persecution of Naval'nyj and 'prison medicine'
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Putin's enemy subjected to sever prison regime. Move authorised by the prison doctors. They want to eliminate him slowly, as was the case in tsarist and Soviet times. Life in Russian prisons is difficult for those who need treatment, especially political opponents.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Opposition activist Aleksej Naval'nyj, who has been in prison for two years now, after numerous restrictive measures in the Melekhovo prison in Vladimir province, has now been incarcerated in a "Pkt" (Pomeščenie kamernogo tipa) cell. It is a 'prison within a prison' with a very harsh regime, similar to the 'Šizo' punishment chamber, where he was punished for weeks, only now he will have to remain segregated for six months.

This type of measure, according to Russian prison regulations, can only be taken with the permission of the prison doctors, who must confirm that the prisoner is able to withstand the conditions of punitive detention.

As many doctors outside the prison world claim, this is actually 'delayed execution murder', as the case of Naval'nyj appears to be. Moreover, these systems are not an invention of Putin's Russia, but a tradition of past regimes, from tsarist to Soviet, in which medicine was never used to save the prisoner.

On these circumstances, Novaja Gazeta Evropa interviewed Aleksej Fedjarov, lawyer and writer, administrator of the Legal Aid Centre 'Status', according to whom 'in our prisons there are no real doctors and no real medicine'. A common practice, for example, is the drilling of teeth without fixing them with any kind of occlusion.

There are also paid services, if relatives are willing to pay the costs, entrusted to doctors on regular duty, who after one or two visits no longer see the patient for months, and only conclude treatment after much insistence and long waits.

The medicines distributed are the most generic and ineffective, and to obtain them one has to go through a complex rigmarole, going to the medical counter accompanied by the guards. Thus an endless queue of prisoners forms, who remain hours in the rain or snow to get a paracetamol tablet. It is even more difficult to receive medicines sent from outside.

As Fedjarov explains, 'at the legal level, we should obtain a reform of the procedures, which are designed to confuse as much as possible, leaving as much space as possible to the arbitrariness of the prison managers'.

The humanitarian activists who try to defend the condition of prisoners in Russia in some way are not so surprised by the cruelty with which the guards harass Naval'nyj, 'because this is the norm for everyone, and in particular for political prisoners'. Nor are they under much illusion in the face of a very intense campaign of support for Putin's great 'personal prisoner'.

The rules of Russian prisons, the lawyer explains, are the 'three Ns' (nasilie, nespravedlivost and neopredelennost): violence, injustice and indefiniteness. Especially the latter, according to which 'the person must be faced with the fog of the lack of any definition, and this also applies to medicine, where it is easy to question anything'.

This effectively means the 'total absence of rights', where the apparent abundance of official rules 'drowns in a multitude of decrees, commands and demands, which in fact only the prison warden knows what they are about'.

As the punishments targeting Naval'nyj in recent months have shown, every detail is an opportunity for sanction: sleeves,  socks and shoes, the direction of his collar or his shirt worn outside his waistband.

This does not mean, says Fedjarov, that there are not also 'members of the prison staff, including doctors, who try to help the inmates in some way', but in the end one has to reckon with the courts deciding on the measures or treatment to be taken, often putting everything off for so long that 'in the end people die in prison, as planned'.

Naval'nyj's move from Šizo to Pkt, Fedjarov assures, was planned, and the next measure will be the 'Sus' (strogye uslovia soderžanija), strict detention measures, up to 'osobyj režim', the 'special regime', in practice throwing the convict into a cell until death. The activist also agrees with many other observers that 'Naval'nyj's only hope for survival is linked to a rapid exit of Putin'.