Russian Prisoners Cease Hunger Strike

penal colony. Source: (c)Prisoners of penal colony number 6, in Russia’s Samara oblast, have called off a massive hunger strike after officials agreed to hear their demands. In total, over 1000 inmates had taken part in the action, to protest abject conditions, human rights violations, and prison officials who ignored their requests for help.

Andrei Naletov, an expert from the For Human Rights movement, and a representative of the Fund for the Defense of Prisoner’s Rights said the result was promising, but was hesitant to call it a victory. He spoke with the online newspaper:

“The administration decided to make concessions,” Naletov said. “Agreements were reached on improving incarceration conditions and passing on the inmate’s complaints to the public prosecutors at various levels [of power].” He added that prison officials went for a compromise only after the media reported on the hunger strike.

“According to relatives of the inmates, the situation is ambiguous for the moment,” he continued. “Those who declared they were going on hunger strike and those who sent out complaints of living in poor conditions, will be taken out of the facility, and [the authorities] will attempt to get rid of them.”

Officials had earlier denied that there were any problems at the prison colony, and said that no hunger strike was taking place. Valery Zaitsev, a representative of Russian prison service, told Ekho Moskvy radio on May 9th that he had “gotten in touch with the management of the correctional colony,” and that “there was nothing there.”

It later became clear that inmates had started the protest on May 9th as a last resort after weeks of unanswered calls for help. Attempts to make contact with higher authorities were apparently dismissed by prison staff.

One group of prisoners had written letters describing their inhumane conditions to the public prosecutor’s office of the Samara oblast and the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia. Prison administrators, however, refused to forward the complaints, and began punishing the convicts that wrote them, according to a prisoner’s rights group called In Defense of Inmates. The group reported that the convicts who wrote letters were put into punitive isolation for non-existent violations. On May 8th, one of the initial complainants, Vladimir Yelbakiev, approached the prison authorities and asked about the status of the grievances. In response, Yelbakiev was brutally beaten by guards.

Penal colony number 6 has seen similar incidents before. In October 2007, an inmate was killed by prison staff under circumstances similar to those described by Yelbakiev. In that case, In Defense of Inmates was able to launch a criminal case.

Read “Putin’s Torture Colonies,” an examination of prisons in modern-day Russia (Wall Street Journal)