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Russia arbitrarily depriving political prisoners from contact with family, Amnesty International report finds

by Dmytro Basmat June 27, 2024 7:03 AM 2 min read
A prisoner of war camp guard escorts a Russian POW following a phone call home at a POW detention center in western Ukraine in late September 2023. Photo for illustrative purposes. (The Kyiv Independent)
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Russian authorities are being accused of systemically depriving Russian political prisoners and government critics of contact with families in order to ensure cooperation and "impose additional suffering on them and their families," an Amnesty International report released on June 26 charged.

"For a detainee facing investigation and trial, the denial of contact with the outside world is an effective reprisal used by the authorities to gain confession or a guilty plea," the report, which compiled interview from 13 prisoners’ family members and friends, lawyers, and human rights defenders, read.

According to the report, Russian authorities use a number of tactics, including legal loopholes and fabricated pretexts, to isolate political prisoners from contact with loved ones.

The isolationist tactics include naming family members as witnesses in the case which bars them from contact, transferring prisoners to alternative penal colonies on the eve of family visits, and arbitrarily placing prisoners in disciplinary cells which prohibits them from visits and phone calls, among others.

Amnesty International noted that in circumstances where political prisoners are able to communicate with family through written letters, correspondence is often withheld for weeks or months at a time.  

Despite legislation currently in place for regular contact with detainees, administrative discretion is wide-reaching and notably arbitrary.

"Not only is Russian law far from compliance with (international) standards, it also enables authorities to continue harassing and persecuting their opponents behind bars," the report notes. "Moreover, practice in Russia today is such that it often does not conform with the country’s own legislation."

Russian authorities forced Amnesty International's departure from the country shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion began in February 2022. As such, political prisoners could not be interviewed for the report.

In one of Russia's most prominent cases, prior to his death in a penal colony, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny lost contact with his team and family members for almost three weeks prior to being located in Russia's far northern Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District.

Lawyers for Navalny sent 618 requests for his location prior to finding him.

Trial for jailed US journalist Gershkovich begins in Russia
Russia formally accused Evan Gershkovich of spying for the CIA and finalized his indictment on June 13, announcing that he would finally go to trial. Russian authorities have not publicly released any evidence to support the charges.

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