Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, who is serving a two-and-half-year jail term in a penal colony outside Moscow, said on Monday he was locked up in a “real concentration camp”.
His comments were the first confirmation of widespread reports the Russian opposition figure would be spending his sentence at the IK-2 prison colony in Pokrov in the Vladimir region, 85km (53 miles) east of Moscow, which stands out among Russian penitentiary facilities for its particularly strict regime.
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“I have to admit that the Russian prison system has managed to surprise me. I never imagined that it was possible to build a real concentration camp 100km from Moscow,” Navalny posted on Instagram along with an old photo of himself with a close-cropped haircut.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.
Last month, Navalny was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. Navalny’s sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he has rejected as fabricated – and which the European Сourt of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful.
The 44-year-old said he has not seen “even a hint at violence” there but faced overwhelming controls that he compared to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Navalny, whom prison authorities marked as a flight risk, said he is subject to particularly close oversight that includes a guard waking him up every hour at night and filming him to report that he’s in place.
“I calmly go back to sleep with a thought that there are people who remember about me and will never lose me,” he said with a touch of his trademark sardonic humour, adding that the prison is rigged with surveillance cameras.
The Kremlin critic’s arrest triggered a wave of protests that drew tens of thousands to the streets across Russia. Authorities have detained about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.
Russian officials have dismissed demands from the United States and the European Union to free Navalny and stop the crackdown on his supporters.