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Prison Revolt Yields More Questions Than Answers

Published: November 29, 2012 (Issue # 1737)



  • During the strike at the maximum-security prison, inmates complained about harsh conditions and demanded that fellow prisoners be freed from disciplinary cells.
    Photo: 6may.org

There were either 250 participants or about 1,000. They demanded improved conditions or nothing at all. Their protest was plotted by criminal masterminds or it was spontaneous.

Almost nothing is clear about last weekend's revolt at a maximum security prison in the Urals, as official statements, media reports and testimony from human rights activists vary wildly.

What is clear, however, is that the incident has attracted an unusually large amount of attention, with even state television — usually deaf to reports of widespread abuse and corruption in the nation's prison system — devoting prime-time programming to developments at Federal Prison No. 6.

Activists say that might be because the reportedly non-violent revolt, which lasted from Saturday to Monday, was an extraordinary reaction to a familiar problem.

"There hasn't been anything like it for a long time," said Nadezhda Radnayeva, an expert at the In the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners Foundation. A typical revolt involves a few dozen prisoners. The rest are too afraid, have a separate agenda or come to an agreement with administrators, she said.

Hence the shock created by footage from the prison in the city of Kopeisk, which showed hundreds of prisoners standing on the roof of a building above a homemade banner reading, "Free people, help us! The administration is extorting $ [sic]. They torture and humiliate."

The incident prompted Chelyabinsk region Governor Mikhail Yurevich to acknowledge that the local penal system needed reform, and prosecutors promptly opened an investigation into prisoners' complaints that officials were extorting money, including for visits with family.

"If this kind of event had happened several years ago, there wouldn't have been such success," veteran human rights defender and deputy chairman of In the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners Foundation Lev Ponomaryov said by telephone Wednesday.

Ponomaryov speculated that high-profile criminal cases in recent months involving the punk protest band Pussy Riot and opposition activists suspected of attacking police at a May rally have led to an awakening of Russian civil society and increased attention to rights abuses.

Others, including Radnayeva, weren't so optimistic. Russians outside a small class of politically charged urbanites were still very indifferent to the plight of Russia's inmates, she said, and there was a pervasive belief that prisoners deserved whatever they got.

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Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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