1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Navalny describes prison as 'concentration camp'

March 16, 2021

The Kremlin critic joked that he had no idea it was possible to construct such a facility so close to Moscow. Navalny, who survived an assassination attempt last summer, is serving a two-and-a-half year sentence.

A protester holds up a portrait of Alexei Navalny
A thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin for years, Alexei Navalny was making jokes about his penal colony on InstagramImage: Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny took to Instagram on Monday to poke fun at his captors, describing the prison where he is currently serving his two-and-a-half year sentence for a parole violation as a "real concentration camp."

The link to the Instagram post was also shared on Navalny's Twitter.

Navalny was immediately arrested when he returned to Moscow from Germany in January. Russian prosecutors claim he had violated the terms of an earlier suspended sentence while recovering from poisoning in Berlin. The anti-corruption crusader had fallen ill while on a domestic flight in Russia, and many Western governments believe he was the victim of an assassination attempt. Navalny has accused President Vladimir Putin and the Russian state of poisoning him with a Novichok nerve agent.

Instagram post from a labor camp

The post published on Navalny's Instagram account on Monday featured a selfie with a shaved head and black t-shirt. The activist also described his new living situation at Penal Colony No. 2. 

"I have to admit that the Russian prison system was able to surprise me. I had no idea that it was possible to set up a real concentration camp 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Moscow," he said.

The penal colony is among the most notorious in the country, which has around 600 such labor camps.

Navalny said he has seen no signs of violence at the facility so far but added that he could believe the stories of torture by looking at the "tense posture of the convicts." He also said that he is woken up "every hour" by a guard who takes his picture and then reports that the prisoner, "who is prone to escape," is still in his cell.

'I'm doing well'

The opposition figure says that everyone in the facility is extremely polite and that total surveillance is the order of the day, with the smallest infractions against rules — such as by swearing — leading to severe consequences for those who misbehave. He says that is why he refers to the site as a "friendly concentration camp."

"I think someone upstairs read Orwell's 1984 and said: 'Yeah, cool. Let's do this. Education through dehumanization,'" Navalny related, noting that, "if you treat everything with humor, you can live. So all in all, I'm doing well."

Navalny's arrest in January triggered protests in Moscow and other Russian cities. Thousands were arrested in police crackdowns as Western countries condemned first the attack on Navalny's life then his arrest and the brutal approach Russian authorities took toward protesters.

The US and the EU have both issued sanctions and called for Navalny's release as well as an end to the persecution of his supporters, all of which has left the Kremlin unimpressed. Moscow also brushed off a recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling, which called for Navalny's release, as "unlawful meddling in Russia's judicial affairs."

js/msh (AFP, AP)