Tag Archives: Russian prisons

International Women’s Day Special: Taisiya Osipova, Political Prisoner

March 8 marks the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the second in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

In August 2012, Taisiya Osipova, an activist in The Other Russia opposition party, was sentenced to eight years in prison on drugs charges. She and her supporters have always maintained her innocence, claiming that police planted the drugs found in her apartment in Smolensk during a search in order to pressure her into cooperating with them and testifying against her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, a senior party activist.

In sentencing her to eight years in prison, the court not only failed to take into account the evidence of her innocence, but also ignored the fact that Osipova is the mother of a young child and suffers from several chronic illnesses, including diabetes.

Sergei Fomchenkov recently posted the following text on Facebook. In it, he describes the extreme difficulties Osipova and her fellow inmates at the women’s penal colony in Vishny Volochok have getting decent, humane medical care, and the recent family visit that he and their daughter Katrina made there. 

tasya600

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“Scalding hot! Torzhok!”
By Sergei Fomchenkov
March 1, 2013

The title of this article is a partial quotation of a bit of prison humor at the women’s penal colony in Vyshny Volochok, where Taisiya Osipova is an inmate. This dark humor is associated with the medical unit, to be more precise, with its head doctor, Valery Moskvin, a colorful character and one known well in town, beyond the premises of the penal colony. The full version of the phrase goes like this: “Scalding hot! Torzhok! The way our medicine works, I can’t promise you Torzhok!” It is uttered by the women prisoners, every one of whom before work in the morning walks down the aisle between rows of beds carrying a liter mug full of boiling water. There is not so much time to get ready for work, and the women have to manage to drink a cup of tea or coffee before going, so they do everything quickly. Rushing down the narrow aisle between rows of bed to her section, the female inmate risks pouring boiling water on other women straying into her path. To keep this from happening, the person carrying boiling water is supposed to loudly repeat the phrase, “Scalding hot! Torzhok. . .” Its meaning is clear only to the local inhabitants, who have encountered the specific form of prison medical care at Correctional Colony No. 5. The fact is that the town of Torzhok is home to the Federal Penitentiary Service’s Tver Regional Hospital. Since the means available to the medical unit at the penal colony are quite limited—they do not have the necessary equipment, specialists, and so forth—comprehensive medical care is impossible. This is a problem common to such medical facilities. But the regional prison hospital in Torzhok has more means at its disposal (although things there are not ideal, either) in terms of equipment and specialists, and they say the staff there has a better attitude about doing their jobs.

“We’re all going there. Some sooner, some later”

Mr. Moskvin really hates referring sick inmates to the regional prison hospital. This isn’t simply a matter of the prejudice, often held in his profession, that inmates feign their illnesses. It also has to do with Mr. Moskvin’s personal character.

The following story characterizes this scion of Hippocrates. Upon her arrival at the camp, an inmate named Elena told him she had a history of cancer, and had undergone multiple surgeries for the removal of tumors. Moskvin responded, “Where did you get that idea? You make something up, and then you end up believing it.” She didn’t know what to say to that. Some time later, a growth appeared on Elena’s back, and she went to Dr. Moskvin to ask to have it looked at the prison hospital in Torzhok. Instead, without doing any tests, this man of medicine prescribed the following course of treatment: for a month, iodine was rubbed on the tumor. But since that didn’t help, he ordered the ointment Levomekol rubbed on it, again for a month. The tumor continued to grow, and the pain got worse. Three months after her initial request, Elena once again visited the head doctor, requesting that something be done. Moskvin once again suggested iodine. Elena asked him, “Will it help?” “It won’t get any worse,” was his reply. In the end, Elena was finally sent to the hospital in Torzhok, where they surgically removed the tumor.

This is just one story of many. I am quoting Elena verbatim, because I spoke with her personally. I am not a doctor. But the stories I heard during my prolonged visit with Taisiya confirm Elena’s account. For instance, when another inmate with cancer asked Moskvin to send her to the Torzhok hospital, he told her, “Why bother? Nothing will save you now.” The most proverbial of his sayings, which he likes to repeat to the female inmates who come to him for help, is, “We’re all going THERE. Some sooner, some later.” This is his way of saying that there isn’t much point in doing tests or getting treatment.

High-Ranking Commission

Several days after Taisiya was deprived, in January, of the pills she needs, and this was reported on the Web, a commission of high-ranking officials from the Federal Penitentiary Service came to visit the penal colony. On the day of their arrival, January 29, 2013, Taisiya was taken to the regular municipal clinic for an appointment with an endocrinologist.  There is no endocrinologist on staff in the penal colony’s medical unit, and even the glucose tolerance test done before she was sent to the municipal clinic was done incorrectly. The endocrinologist confirmed this to Taisiya. She also explained that Taisiya needed a full slate of tests at a regular in-patient hospital. Upon Taisiya’s return to the penal colony, she found out that high-ranking authorities were visiting, which explained why she had suddenly been sent to an endocrinologist. Only one member of this “commission” met with her. This official admitted that the colony lacked the necessary resources for treating her illness, but promised her that by mid-February she would be taken to a real hospital, regardless of what head of the medical unit Dr. Moskvin wanted. At the same time, the official also expressed doubt that this would in any way benefit Taisiya, saying that with illnesses like hers it was “quite possible to live without receiving treatment.” Unfortunately, Taisiya did not remember his name.

Maximum Security Family Living

Almost everything recounted above I found out during my prolonged visit with Taisiya, from February 4 to February 7. Our daughter Katrina and I had come to the penal colony for a visit. The building where the visit was held was on the premises of the colony. It had four rooms, a common kitchen, and a bathroom. We had registered for the visit in advance. A prolonged visit, which entails living together for three days, is allowed once every three months. A short visit is allowed once every two months, through glass, and lasts four hours.

During a prolonged visit, each inmate and her relatives (only close relatives are allowed the privilege of such visits) are given a single room to share. In it, there are two beds, a refrigerator, and a television. Food is prepared in the common kitchen. Visitors and their groceries are thoroughly searched before entering the visitation building. A search is also conducted upon departure. During the visit, a check is made twice daily to ascertain that the inmates are in the building. At night, the building is locked from the outside.

Katrina and I arrived for the visit early in the morning. Leading us to the visitation building, the prison staff searched us (this was probably the first time Katrina had ever been frisked, although she had been present for two searches involving police in balaclavas), and they checked the groceries we’d brought. Everything was done politely and carefully. After that, Taisiya was led in.

Katrina glued herself to her mother for three days straight. She was jealous of every moment I had Taisiya’s attention. Katrina followed her mother from room to room, even to the kitchen and back. Taisiya promised her daughter she would be released soon. We only talked about what our life would be like after her release.

In moments when Katrina was either distracted or sleeping, we had the chance to talk. Taisiya told me all about her life in the colony, about being transported to the penal colony and her hunger strike in solitary confinement at the Tver pre-trial detention center. It had been impossible to drink the tap water in the cell at the detention center because of its high level of chlorine. Thus, her hunger strike was practically “dry.” As a result, upon being released from solitary confinement, her kidneys started to shut down.

Taisiya recounted the story of her arrest, and how Center “E” (“anti-extremism”) police, led by Savchenkov, visited her in jail, demanding she testify against herself and me as well as squealing on the [Other Russia] party. They threatened to deprive her of parental rights and put Katrina in an orphanage.

We were able to discuss the plans for appealing the verdict. Taisiya has high hopes for the supervisory appeal and the complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

The most difficult time for Taisiya came when two days had passed, and only one remained before she had to return to the penal colony. That was when Katrina, just like an adult, in turn tried to calm Taisiya down, explaining to her mother that she would soon be released and telling her about how good everything would be when that happened. It wasn’t a scene for the faint of heart.

The next morning, the guards took Taisiya away. Katrina and I were searched and escorted to the penal colony gates.

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P.S. Taisiya really was sent to the hospital in Torzhok on the night of February 16. She managed to write a letter where she said that, “As it turns out, there is no endocrinologist in Torzhok. And they’re not going to affirm my request, anyway. It’s all the doing of the Federal Penitentiary Service.”

On February 26, journalists were able to get in touch with [Taisiya’s] lawyers, who told them that the Smolensk Regional Court had refused to reexamine Taisiya’s verdict, but had not even informed her lawyers of this decision.

Translated by Bela Shayevich and Chtodelat News

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Pussy Riot: The Sequel

Pussy Riot: The SequelTeatr.doc’s testimonial theater production about Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich. The production was staged only once, on January 9, 2013. (In Russian)

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“If you want to live, you pay them” (Kopeisk Prison)

nplusonemag.com
3 December 2012

“If you want to live, you pay them”

On Saturday, November 24, 2012, hundreds of prisoners at Penal Colony No.6 in Kopeisk, Russia walked out onto the roofs of the prison with banners in order to protest the horrific conditions inside. The signs, some of them allegedly written in blood, plead for help. The protest led to a violent confrontation between the police and the prisoners’ relatives gathered outside the prison gates—the protest had been staged on a visitors’ day.

The following are three testimonies: the first a statement from Valeria Prikhodkina, a member of the Public Monitoring Committee of the Chelyabinsk region; next, a description of conditions inside Penal Colony No.6 from former inmate Mikhail Ermuraki, who was released in April 2012; and, finally, human rights activist Nikolai Shur’s interview with Russian independent news site slon.ru upon visiting the prison on Tuesday.

Valeria Prikhodkina

Public Monitoring Committee, Chelyabinsk

[Source: Bolshoi Gorod. Published November 25, 2012]

Saturday was visiting day at the prison. People started coming early in the morning, some having traveled long distances. All visitors were stopped at the prison gates without explanation. Something was going on inside. Suddenly, the riot police stormed into the prison along with other police forces and even fire trucks. The visiting relatives began to panic.

The inmates had organized a strike; they went out into the prison yard and refused to go back inside.

More relatives gathered at the gates. By evening, it seemed that military operations were underway inside the colony: you could hear screams, people were running on the roofs, and then prisoners hung out a sheet with the message “People, help us” written on it. Members of the Public Monitoring Committee arrived, but they were not admitted into the prison. After they left at around 23:00, a bloodbath began. The police beat the prisoners with sticks, indiscriminately and swinging wildly.

From among our colleagues, only Oksana Trufanova stayed. She met the prison warden and was told that the prisoners had captured the watchtower and that she would not be allowed inside. She went into the grounds as far as she could and then left when she found she could go no further. While we were talking to her on the phone, we suddenly heard screams and the line went dead. It turned out that the riot police had attacked the assembled crowd of relatives to disperse them. Oksana was hit on the head with a police club and she lost consciousness. I don’t know anything about the drunken young people they’re talking about in official reports. I think it’s just nonsense. Who visits prisons? Mothers, wives—they’d been standing at the shut prison gates in the cold since the morning.

This particular penal colony is, of course, problematic, and we tend to visit it more often than we do other places.

If you come to a prison and the prisoners don’t say anything or tell you everything’s fine, that’s no reason to believe that it’s a regular Young Pioneer summer camp. Prisoners only start speaking when they can’t take it anymore and believe it can’t get any worse. Apparently that’s what happened in Kopeisk.

We are currently reviewing the case of Nikolai Korovkin along with the prosecutor’s office. Investigators have kept themselves busy by refusing all our requests since June. We have a lot of evidence that he was simply beaten to death. The authorities claim he died of late stage AIDS. The problem with that story is that he only spent two months in the penal colony after his trial. So either something happened to him in prison or they sent a gravely ill man to the penal colony. We have found someone who witnessed the beating.

Another prisoner, Daniil Abakumov, when he wound up in a pretrial detention facility, disclosed details and wrote a statement. But then they sent him back to the colony. I can’t even talk about what happened to him after that, but there is video of his testimony online. We’re talking about extortion, beatings, rape—in a word, torture.

Why does all of this go on? They’re trying to shake the relatives down for money. I don’t know whether it’s for themselves or for the colony as whole. Prisons in Russia are being reformed right now, and the penal colonies are supposed to be outfitted to European standards. But they don’t have the money for it. And so the relatives are paying for everything from fans to game consoles. You want to be paroled? That will cost you. Do you want your son or husband to be safe from beatings? That will cost you.

There aren’t standard rates—they stop at nothing. Someone was bringing them desk lamps, someone else, toilets. And the relatives were the ones who took out the loans, who actually bought these toilets, in exchange for parole. Parents are constantly complaining that their children are completely eligible for parole but it is not being granted because they can’t afford to pay the authorities. They were extorting money from Korovkin as well.

There are rumors that if a prisoner complains, they break his hands. I don’t have any proof of this, but this kind of injury, fractured fingers, is very common in the Chelyabinsk region, and often ends in amputation. Especially in this colony, where there have been several cases. No one will say what happened. And what would you say if they broke your fingers?

Yes, this penal colony is mostly populated with “maximum security” inmates, repeat offenders. But the government admits that 30% of the incarcerated are there undeservedly, while in reality the number is even greater. As human rights advocates, we are not concerned about what people are in prison for. People are people. They have been convicted and sentenced to incarceration. No law legislates slave labor, humiliation, round-the-clock beatings and torturous conditions.

Mikhail Ermuraki 

Former Inmate at Kopeisk No. 6

[Source: Openspace.Ru. Published November 27, 2012]

When I left No. 6 on Monday evening it was still cordoned off. They had started letting buses in, but they weren’t letting cars in. There were a bunch of OMONvehicles. A bunch of traffic cops. The bloody sheets [the demands on the sheets were written in blood—Openspace.ru] that prisoners had written “People on the outside, help us!” had been removed from the barracks and towers yesterday, when the riot police had gone into the colony.

I’ll say this: it was reasonable people in No. 6 who organized themselves. They don’t want to be beaten. They decided they can’t take it anymore. They’ll either slit their wrists, commit suicide or go down swinging. This wasn’t an uprising, but a declaration of their rights. Around 6 PM Moscow time on Monday I got a call from the prison and was told that 250 people, including those who had been on the roof in Kopeisk over the weekend, were sent to the medical unit, and the majority of them had been made to stand in the yard naked. They stood there naked for no less than five hours, keeping in mind that on Monday, it was -9 degrees Celsius in Kopeisk. They weren’t allowed to drink or put on clothes.

When I was there, things like this happened as well. It’s a kind of torture. An hour into it, you want to go to the bathroom. You fidget and the guard will tell you to stand still. If you disobey, they drag you into the duty room, put you on the “stretcher” [which involves handcuffing the prisoner’s hands and feet to the bars as far apart as possible—Openspace.ru], start beating you and tell you that you’re so lawless, why are you breaking the code of conduct?

It’s especially horrible in No. 6. The guards take you to solitary confinement and practice on you like you’re a punching bag. They hit you anywhere, even in the balls. Until you’re foaming at the mouth — some people lose consciousness. They don’t care how old you are—20, 48, or 65. I went through this myself. I was released on April 4 of this year, and I went in for oral surgery on April 5 and again on April 10. The two oral surgeons could have wept. I opened up my mouth and told them I’d been walking around in this condition since March 24. My jaw was completely broken: they did that to me in prison. When I got out, I found the mothers of various other inmates and explained to them their sons didn’t write them for months because their hands had been broken.

One of the convicts, Korovkin was his last name, they killed him last summer because he refused to pay them. It goes like this: a new batch of prisoners arrives, and they find out what people’s financial situation is. God forbid they find out that your wife has a hair salon or that your mother-in-law runs a kiosk. Then the extortion begins.

If you want to live, you pay them. They charge 200, 300, 500 rubles. If you don’t pay, they pour chlorine on you, strip you naked, and throw you out into the yard where it’s -20 degrees Celsius. After four days of that, I got pneumonia. I filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office and got solitary for five days as a result. A day in, I lost my voice. Then my blood pressure dropped. Just then investigators from the prosecutor’s office came—I got lucky. They took me out of there to a [regular] cell and the prosecutor asked, “What’s going on here?” I just pulled up my t-shirt without saying a word. There were marks from the beatings on my body, seven stripes four centimeters wide and 12 to 36 centimeters long. They saw this, yelled at the prison authorities, but no one lost their jobs. The worst part is that they’re not letting any human rights advocates into the prison right now.

Nikolai Shur

Member of the regional public commission on prisoners’ rights, interviewed by Roman Dobrokhotov

[Source: Slon.ru. Published November 27, 2012].

Nikolai, today your group was finally allowed into the penal colony. Did you find evidence of violence there, beatings?

During the protest, there was no violence from either side. The prisoner’s protest was completely peaceful: they did not attack anyone. And they ended it of their own free will because they had achieved their goal: to draw the attention of the media, human rights advocates, and the prosecutor’s office to what was happening in the prison.

There had been reports of torture and beatings. Have you been able to confirm them?

Yes, beatings and torture were a regular occurrence in the prison on a mass scale. We were able to gather specific examples of this corroborated by photographic evidence and videotaped testimony, which we will present at a press conference tomorrow.

Were you allowed to see the solitary confinement cells?

Yes, we were allowed in everywhere. In the solitary confinement cells there is a man who has been on hunger strike since the 19th and is in critical condition. They are not allowing doctors in to see him, and today, he cut his veins in desperation. And that’s not the only such case.

What kind of torture goes on at this prison? 

Today, we heard stories of how inmates were given electric shocks. Bracelets are put on their legs to which a generator is hooked up. The generator is cranked up and the person is shocked.

Why do they do this?

For various reasons—mostly in order to extort money.

So you were also able to confirm instances of extortion?

Yes, in large numbers. It wasn’t just a handful or dozens of cases, but hundreds of cases: it really a mass phenomenon.

But the prisoners earn pennies—what can be extorted from them?

They make their relatives bring money or goods. There are a huge number of instances of this.

How much money do they ask for?

One inmate estimated that about a million rubles (about $32 K USD—Trans.) is taken from a unit (a unit contains between 100 and 150 prisoners) per month. Which is to say about 10 to 15 million rubles a month for the whole colony. However, these figures are only from one source: they need to be corroborated.

Your committee will continue to watch this penal colony since it’s highly likely that the administration will decide to get even with the prisoners for their protest.

Yes, the prison administration is just dreaming of this, but right now, they are more concerned with saving their skin than getting revenge.

Do you think they’ll manage to save their skins?

I really hope that everyone guilty will be punished, I sincerely hope for this. If you journalists continue to support us, we might have a chance. 

Translated by Bela Shayevich and Chtodelat News

Photo by Valeria Prikhodkina. Prisoners at Penal Colony No. 6 in Kopeisk holding a sign reading, “The Prison Administration Extorts $. Tortures and Humiliates Us.”

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Russia Riot Prison Dubbed ‘Hell’ by Kremlin Rights Council

[…]

Kremlin human rights council chief Mikhail Fedotov said Thursday a number of inmates had been held in isolation cells for “months or even years.”

“There was one man who could only crawl,” he added. “His legs didn’t work anymore after being kept in a punishment isolation cell for months.”

The disturbances made headlines across Russia and were the subject of intense online debate by the country’s increasingly politicized internet community. Police also made 12 arrests at a November 26 protest against torture in the Russian prison system outside the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FCIN).

“The attention being paid to the abuse in Kopeisk is a great step forward for Russia and another sign that civil society has at last woken up,” veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov told RIA Novosti.

“Four prisoners were killed in this very same prison in 2008 and there was no attention paid to their deaths at all,” he added. “It was as if people thought then this was how things ought to be.”

Investigators have since filed assault charges against five inmates. One prison guard has also been charged with extortion.

“People who complained [about extortion] were beaten,” council member Igor Kalyapin said, adding that “a stream” of complaints to local officials about the alleged abuse had been ignored.

Chelyabinsk Region Governor Mikhail Yurevich said last month the riot was sparked by a “corrupt” system.

The council’s news conference came two days after deputy FCIN head Eduard Petrukhin admitted that attempted reforms of Russia’s prison system had been a “failure”.

More than 700,000 Russians are currently behind bars. Human rights activists frequently complain of sub-standard living conditions, torture, and disease in the country’s prisons.

[…]

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Russia: Reading Aloud in Public Is Illegal (Protest against the Torture of Russian Prisoners)

On November 26, a protest against the torture of Russian prisoners took place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow. The protest was occasioned by the conflict in penal colony № 6 in Kopeisk. Police detained more than ten people during the protest.

This is how the protest was announced on Facebook:

On November 26 at 6:00 p.m, a protest against torture in Russian prisons will take place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service at Zhitnaya 14.

We protest against torture in Russian prisons and support the inmates in Kopeisk, who spoke out against bullying, extortion and sexual abuse. During the protest, we will be reading prisoners’ stories of torture and humiliation aloud. We are convinced that the public should be aware of what is actually going on in Russian prisons. And not just be aware, but try and stop this nightmare.

At penal colony no. 6 in Kopeisk in the Chelyabinsk region, more than a thousand prisoners have for several days refused to go inside in protest against torture and beatings. Silently, lined up, they stand in the cold for several hours. They refuse to eat, believing that it is better to die than to continue to suffer torture, humiliation and blackmail.
A group of convicts seized the guard tower in the industrial area of the colony and hung up a banner with the message “People, help us!” Riot police were deployed to the colony; they attacked prisoners’ relatives who had gathered outside the prison gates. People were beaten bloody and the windows of their cars were smashed. Among the victims was human rights activist Oksana Trufanova. “I heard [the command] ‘Beat!’ and the relatives were attacked by men in black masks and uniforms wielding clubs,” she said in an interview. “Everyone fled, but [the riot police] ran many people down. Personally, I was hit on the head and pushed to the ground. I told them I was a human rights activist, but they told me rudely, using obscene language, to keep quiet or I’d get another whacking.”

Even now the authorities are trying to convince us that nothing has happened, and that journalists have exaggerated the scale of the protests. That is why it is so important not to let them hush up this outrage.
We demand:

–  An objective investigation of all allegations of torture and extortion in the colony, and an open trial of Federal Penitentiary Service employees implicated in them.
– The punishment of Interior Ministry officers who employed violence against family members and human rights activists gathered outside colony no. 6.

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 Why the prisoners “rioted”:

Olga Belousova, the sister of one of the inmates, was allowed inside Penal Colony No. 6 along with two other relatives. As a witness, she was able to speak to the press about the situation there.

“There were 60 people in the room; all were standing quietly,” Belousova said. “I told them that we support them and came to make sure that everything is fine, and that we want to make their voices heard outside the colony.”

The complaints, which were mainly communicated by the prisoners, include enormous extortions, inappropriate use of force and numerous other humiliations, Belousova says.

“They don’t touch those who give them money, but against those who can’t they use force to make their relatives pay,” she added.

Former convict Mikhail Ermuraky believes that this system of exploitation was a main reason for the riot.  

His mother said her son was tortured multiple times, sometimes even including with sexual abuse.

“They start beating those who don’t want to pay,” said Ermuraky in a recent interview with the RIA Novosti news agency.

The father of another convict, who spent three months in colony No.6, told Russia’s Dozhd television that he has twice paid off prison staff.

“Every month… If you don’t bring money, there will be problems,” a man who wasn’t named told Dozhd.

Payments in prison are typically euphemized as “voluntary contributions.” Local human rights ombudsman Aleksey Sevastianov has noted complaints from relatives that such “contributions” can sometimes reach up to 200,000 rubles – more than $6,400. For comparison, the average Russian’s annual income is just over $10,000.

For convicts, such sums are impossible to pay – roughly half the prisoners in the colony are not employed. Those who do have jobs in the prison are paid extremely little – less than 100 rubles, or just over $2, per month. Such a wage is not enough even to buy food in a convenience store in the territory, where prices are said to be higher than in the town.

The head of the detention facility met with inmates’ relatives after the uprising, assuring them that he is willing to abolish “the system of contributions.” However, relatives now fear that this change could bring retaliation from the prison staff.

When asked if such a system could be considered as criminal corruption, human rights ombudsman Sevastianov agreed that it is illegal, and should be investigated.

He explained that with the scheme working in the facility, relatives wire money to a bank account given by the colony’s administration. Thus, for example, millions of rubles sent by convicts’ families were spent to build a new church on the territory.

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