Putin critic Navalny says he’s in punishment cell at Russian Arctic prison

‘Polar Wolf’ colony is among the harshest in Russia’s prison system, whose inmates have been convicted for grave crimes.

Russian opposition activist Alexey Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny [File: Pavel Golovkin/AP]

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny says he has been isolated in a small punishment cell for an alleged minor breach at a remote prison colony north of the Arctic Circle.

“I got seven days in SHIZO,” Navalny said, referring to the punishment cell where he has to serve a week.

Prison officials accused him of refusing to “introduce himself in line with protocol”, the Kremlin critic posted on Tuesday on X, with his account routinely updated via his allies.

Navalny was recently tracked to the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp in the Yamal-Nenets region, about 1,900km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, after he went missing in early December.

The “special regime” or “Polar Wolf” colony is among the harshest in Russia’s prison system, located in a place with severe winters. Most inmates have been convicted of grave crimes. Kharp is about 100km (60 miles) from Vorkuta, whose coalmines were part of the Soviet gulag camp system.

In his typical sardonic tone, Navalny said, the temperature of his prison yard walks had “never been colder” than -32 degrees Celsius (-25 degrees Fahrenheit), adding that “even at that temperature you can walk for more than half an hour, but only if you have time to grow a new nose, ears, and fingers”.

This marks the 24th time in SHIZO for the opponent of President Vladimir Putin. His allies say Navalny has spent a total of 273 days under such conditions.

“The idea that Putin is satisfied with the fact that he put me in a hut in the far north and that I am no longer being tortured in SHIZO was not only cowardly but also naive,” he posted.

He shared a photo of the small space in his cell where he takes his daily walks: “11 steps from the wall and 3 to the wall — not much to walk, but at least there’s something, so I go for a walk.”

Navalny has been imprisoned since January 2021 when he returned to Moscow after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Before he was arrested, he led massive campaigns against corruption and organised major anti-Kremlin protests.

Jailed on charges of extremism, he saw his sentence extended to 19 years in 2023.

From his cramped and freezing cell, Navalny mentioned a scene in the 2015 film, The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio shelters in the carcass of a horse.

“I don’t think that would have worked here. A dead horse would freeze in 15 minutes,” Navalny said. “We need an elephant here, a hot elephant, a fried one.”

“But where am I going to get a hot, roasted elephant in Yamal, especially at 6:30 in the morning? So I will continue to freeze,” he posted.

Navalny’s chief strategist, Leonid Volkov, posted on X recently: “It is almost impossible to get to this colony; it is almost impossible to even send letters there. This is the highest possible level of isolation from the world.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies