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New Times Loom for Fabled Lefortovo Prison

Published: June 7, 2005 (Issue # 1076)


MOSCOW - When Lefortovo is removed from the Federal Security Service and, placed like all other penitentiary facilities, under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry, the legend of the much-feared, high-security prison may finally draw to a close.

At Lefortovo, prisoners suffer extreme isolation, and routine prison regulations are followed to a depressing degree. But this also can make time spent there more tolerable, former inmates say.

"I feel a strange pity for the place. After the FSB gives it away, the super-orderly Lefortovo will turn into a regular stinking jail," said writer Eduard Limonov, who spent 15 months in Lefortovo in 2002 and 2003 as the FSB investigated his radical National Bolshevik Party.

Justice Minister Yury Chaika announced at a meeting with the Council of Europe's commissioner on human rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, in late May that his ministry would be taking over Lefortovo and other penal facilities that have remained with the FSB.

The transfer was a condition for Russia's admission in 1996 to the Council of Europe, which demanded that Russia separate investigating agencies from detention facilities where inmates could be subject to pressure from investigators. The Interior Ministry transferred its prisons and other penitentiary facilities to the Justice Ministry in 1998.

"The one who is trying to prove your guilt is the one who is keeping you. He is also the one who eavesdrops on you and collects compromising material on you 24 hours a day," lawyer and human rights activist Karina Moskalenko told Gazeta.ru last week, saying that such practices violate the concept of a lawful state.

A spokesman for the FSB, Alexander Murashov, said the transfer of Lefortovo to the Justice Ministry would be done gradually and no deadline was imposed for its completion. Whether Lefortovo changes, will depend upon whether the prison personnel stay after the transfer is complete.

"Regulations are all the same at any prison, but we manage to keep Lefortovo as a model facility, not like any other Russian prison," he said.

Murashov denied a request to speak with prison personnel or visit the prison.

Hidden behind a high fence crowned by concertina wire, Lefortovo's three-story building of yellow brick, shaped like a giant K if seen from above, has held many of the country's most famous prisoners, from political dissidents of the Soviet era to suspected spies of more recent years.

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