Prison Within a Prison: Why Crimean Political Prisoners Appear in Punitive Confinement

28 / 12 / 2021

In Russian punitive institutions, putting prisoners into punitive confinement is a common penal practice. Throughout 2021 at least 12 Crimean prisoners appeared in punitive confinement for various reasons: Teimur Abdullaiev, Uzeir Abdullaiev, Aider Saledinov, Rustem Ismailov, Emil Dzhemadenov, Muslim Aliev, Emir-Usein Kuku, Refat Alimov, Arsen Dzhepparov, Andrii Kolomiets, Valentyn Vyhivskii, Andrii Zakhtei, Ivan Yatskin

This publication provides information about the illegal detainment of political prisoners in punitive confinement. As a result, those prisoners suffer from torture and inhumane and humiliating treatment. 

Legacy of GULAG 

According to international humanitarian law and international human rights law, nobody should be subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment (art. 7 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights). International law does not allow to deviate from this prohibition at all times, any place, and under any circumstances like war or state of emergency. 

Putting into punitive confinement is the most serious punishment that can be applied to the imprisoned persons for violating the order of the punitive institution. While in punitive confinement, prisoners are not allowed to see visitors, have phone calls, purchase food, receive packages (clause 1, art. 118 of the Criminal executive code of Russia). While in punitive confinement, prisoners are allowed to have daily walks that are 1 hour long. The term in the punitive confinement cannot exceed 15 days (clause 1, art. 115 of the Criminal Executive Code of Russia). The bed in the punitive confinement has to stay up during the day. Therefore,  a prisoner can not lay or sit down during the daytime.  

“Just try to stand on a concrete floor in a misty, cold basement room with no windows and with mould on the walls for just three days. There were cases when after 150 days in the punitive confinement, the convoy carried the prisoner into the medical ward,” – says Diliara Abdullaieva, whose younger son Teimur Addullaiev has stayed in punitive confinement for almost the whole time between March 10, 2020, and December 18, 2021. Both of her sons, Teimur and Uzeir, were sentenced to 16.5 and 12.5 years in prison under fabricated charges of their alleged participation in the terrorist organization. 

Fera Abdullaieva, a wife of Uzeir Abdullaiev, describes the incarcerating conditions in punitive confinement in the following way. At 6 am guards turn on the lights in the cell and play the Russian anthem and Russian patriotic songs. Employees of the colony chain the bed up to the wall so that the prisoner has to stand on his feet until 10 pm. The table and the chair are screwed to the floor. If a prisoner falls asleep while sitting down, he will get punished. One hour per day, a prisoner gets to go for a walk in a special room. A prisoner can see the sky through the ceiling and metal bars in this room. 

In reality, political prisoners can remain in punitive confinement for many months. Their stay at the punitive confinement can often be prolonged, or they return to the punitive confinement after a short stay in a ward-type room that has better conditions. For instance, Teimur Abdullaiev came to the penal colony #2 of Salavat (Bashkiria) in March 2020. Since that time, he spent 446 days in punitive confinement. Muslim Aliev, who came to the colony in September 2020, spent 208 days in punitive confinement. Emil Dzhemadenov spent 161 days in punitive confinement of the penal colony # 16 located nearby. 

A softer punishment is putting a prisoner in a ward-type room or a single space ward-type room. Here, prisoners can purchase food and emergency goods that amount to 5 thousand RUB per month. They are allowed to receive one package and one parcel per 6 months. They go for a walk for 1.5 hours daily and, if the administration permits, they can have one short-term visit per 6 months (clause 2, art. 118 of the Criminal Executive Code of Russia). A prisoner can stay in a ward-type room for up to 6 months and a single space ward-type room – up to one year (clause 1, art 115 of the Criminal Executive code). 

Before putting prisoners into punitive confinement, ward-type room, or single ward-type room, the prison administration must ask them to give a written explanation; prisoners also have to go through a medical check. As a result of this check, doctors have to conclude whether a prisoner is healthy enough to stay in punitive confinement, ward-type room, or single ward-type room (clauses 1, 4 art. 117 of the Criminal Executive order of Russia).  

“It Just Needs to Be This Way” 

Punitive confinement is a punishment for harsh violations of the prison order, such as alcohol or drug consumption, petty crimes, failure to comply with demands of prison employees or their verbal abuse, keeping or distributing prohibited items, refusal to work, etc. A repeated violation of the order of imprisonment, when repeated within a year and punished with punitive confinement, is also considered a harsh violation (clause 1, 2 art. 116 of the Criminal Executive order of Russia). 

However, in practice, putting prisoners into punitive confinement results from their subjective treatment by administrations of colonies. A prisoner can appear in punitive confinement for anything: poorly made bed, absence of a headdress, wrong greeting with prison employee, etc. This kind of behavior can not be a reason for punishment with punitive confinement. At least, before punitive confinement, the administration has to use softer measures, such as warnings. “It just needs to be this way. Everyone who is charged under this article [art. 205.5 of the Criminal code of Russia] has to stay in punitive confinement”, this is how Zarina Dzhepparova quotes her husband Arsen Dzhepparov, who stayed in punitive confinement of the penal colony-16 (Salavat, Bashkortostan Republic, Russia). Arsen has been sentenced to 7 years in prison for alleged participation in a terrorist organization. 

According to lawyer Liliia Hemedzhy, employees of penal colonies have a task – to put a political prisoner into punitive confinement. It is easy to find a reason. Let’s look at some formal reasons for putting political prisoners into punitive confinement. 

  • “Made a bed not according to the set norm.” This was how Teimur Abdullaiev, Aider Saledinov, and Muslim Aliev appeared in punitive confinement of the penal colony #2 in Salavat for the first time. For instance, Teimur appeared in a colony on March 7, 2020, and on March 10, he was sent to punitive confinement. 
  • “Did not sleep after bedtime” during the Muslim holidays. This was why Uzeir Abdullaiev spent ten days in punitive confinement in April 2021. He woke up at night during the Ramazan to eat before dawn. Meanwhile, there are many Muslims in penal colony #16, and they are not getting punished for this. In July 2021, Aider Saledinov and Rustem Ismailov appeared in punitive confinement for not sleeping after bedtime while waiting for a night prayer during Kurban Bayram. 
  • “Covered a video surveillance camera.” The administration of penal colony # 2 put Teimur Abdullaiev and Muslim Aliev in punitive confinement multiple times just for this “violation.” Many Russian prisons have 24-hour surveillance covering the whole cell, including a toilet. In 2019 Russian lost in the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that constant video surveillance in prison cells violates the right to private life (art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights). However, Russia has not prohibited this kind of surveillance.  
  • “Violation of the order of dress.” For instance, in 2018, Andrii Kolomiets appeared in punitive confinement after putting on his warm clothes instead of the prison uniform when he stayed in a cold and humid workshop. Teimur Abdullaiev also appeared in punitive confinement for a “wrong prison uniform.” Diliara Abdullaieva, a mother of Teimur, says that prison administration often gives Teimur a dirty prison uniform to wear in punitive confinement. The uniform is often previously been worn by another prisoner and not washed.  
  • Did not come for morning exercise. Emil Dzhemadenov first appeared in punitive confinement after refusing to do morning exercises due to his health condition. Emil has multiple health problems that the colony administration ignores: mitral valve prolapse, chronic stomach ulcer, chronic tonsillitis. In October 2021, Andrii Zakhtei was put into punitive confinement for ten days; the formal reason was that he did not come for a morning exercise. Meanwhile, Metropolitan Archbishop Klyment, who is a civic defender of Zakhtei, believes that political prisoner appeared in punitive confinement because he spoke the Ukrainian language at all times and refused to take off a T-Shirt with an inscription that said: “Ukraine above all” with a picture of Crimea on a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. Emir Usein Kuku appeared in punitive confinement for asking whether he was allowed to do morning exercise inside the building. A previous morning exercise in the cold air reminded him about his kidney problems. 
  • “Slept during the wrong time” due to pain. For instance, Andrii Kolomiets had his term in punitive confinement prolonged at least twice. The first time, he leaned against the wall due to the pain in his back and fell asleep. Next time, he laid down on the floor due to the pain in his back. Teimur Abdullaiev appeared in punitive confinement for being in bed “when it was not allowed.” Teimur, however, had a fever of up to 40 degrees Celsius. 
  • Refusal to work. Valentyn Vyhivskii spent five years in punitive confinement and ward-type room interchangeably.  The most common reason was a refusal to work. According to Petro Vyhivskii, father of the political prisoner, Valentyn refused to contribute to the economy of the aggressor state, and he was ready to perform the work that would not contribute to Russia’s economy. 

There was also an example when a political prisoner appeared in punitive confinement for no formal reason. The information appeared in November 2021. Ivan Yatskin spent three days in punitive confinement “because there was no free space in cells.” 

 “You Will Rotten in a Punitive Confinement” 

The most probable actual reason for putting a prisoner in punitive confinement is psychological pressure from FSB. A lawyer Emil Kurbedinov says that the behavior of the prison employees is defined by the characteristic of a political prisoner, written by the Russian security services. According to Diliara Abdullaieva, officers of FSB and the Center for combatting extremism offered Teimur Abdullaiev to cooperate several times. However, Teimur refused to work for the security services. In response, they threatened him that he will go rotten in punitive confinement. The father of Valentyn Vyhivskii is sure that his son is being kept in the punitive confinement and ward-type room because he refused to work for the military production industry of Russia. During the investigation, FSB officers tried to recruit Valentyn to work for the military industry because Valentyn has a talent for aviation.  

Staying in the inhumane environment of punitive confinement influenced the health of political prisoners. Teimur Abdullaiev has hypertensive crisis. After a short meeting with her son, Diliara Abdullaieva wrote that “he was taken apart.” “I saw my son tortured; he lost his own face – just skin and bones as if he came from a concentration camp. His face is swollen, his eyes are yellow. I asked him to show me his eyes closer, and I saw many popped blood capillaries in his eyes; his eyes were all bleeding internally… His tongue was all cracked, and he had stomach pain. He also has pain in his liver. The sides of his lips have blisters which means that he has inflammation on his digestive system.” – this is how Diliara describes Teimur’s condition after he spent what amounts to over a year in punitive confinement. Ivan Yatskin had to stand on his sick feet for three days in a row. There is a risk that both of his legs will be amputated due to the frostbite that he received when he was detained in the Moscow detention center “Lefortovo.” After a total of 161 days spent in punitive confinement, Emil Dzhemadenov has inflammation of his neck nerve. This led to paralysis of his left arm. According to a lawyer Lilia Hemedzhy, her client, Aider Saledinov, has a weak immune system after the term in punitive confinement: he has regular ARVIs, pain in his joints. Aider suffered from folliculitis for a long time. Emir-Usein Kuku has inflammation of the middle ear. His wife, Meriem Kuku, assumes that this happened due to him staying in a cold dark room of punitive confinement for 25 days. 

In general, it is usually enough to spend a few months in punitive institutions of Russia and the occupied Crimea to suffer serious health problems. Multiple examples of this have been documented by NGO “CrimeaSOS” in a report “Incarceration conditions of Crimean political prisoners. Overview of cases.” 

What Should a Response Be? 

In order to stop Russia’s repressive practice against Crimean political prisoners, there should be coordination between Ukraine, foreign states, international organizations, and human rights defenders. 

  1. It is necessary to organize comprehensive support of families of political prisoners. Many families with underaged children and elderly parents were left without sources of income after Russian authorities arrested the only breadwinner. Financial support is necessary to help relatives and lawyers visit the places of incarceration of political prisoners (for instance, punitive colonies in Salavat are located 2500 km away from Crimea). For example, on December 8, 2021, Muslim Aliev was released from punitive confinement after his lawyer came to the colony. 
  1. After eight years of occupation, Ukraine finally needs to adopt a law on protecting political prisoners. On December 16, 2021, the Ukrainian parliament approved the first reading of the law draft #6104. This project legislation intends to introduce social and legal protection to people who were deprived of freedom due to the Russian aggression; if approved, the law will also support family members of political prisoners. 
  1. Lawyers of political prisoners should prepare individual appeals to the European Court of Human Rights after they exhaust all means of internal Russian legal protection. The abovementioned facts of incarceration violate article 3 (prohibition of torture), article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 9 (freedom of religion), article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), and, in the case of Teimur Abdullaiev also article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. 
  1. Foreign diplomats and representatives of international institutions, who have accreditation in Russia, should visit places of incarceration of political prisoners. Constant visits from foreign delegations might force the administrations to improve the incarceration conditions. 
  1. Ukraine and foreign states should broaden the list of people on a sanctions list. The list should include administrations of detention centers, which violate the rights of political prisoners and investigators, judges, and prosecutors who are directly involved in the persecution and illegal arrests. 
  1. Ukraine and foreign states should develop mentorship programs and involve famous people in advocacy in favor of releasing political prisoners. 
  1. Ukrainian and foreign government members and politicians should regularly write letters to political prisoners. This kind of correspondence will be an instrument of “soft pressure” on the administration of penitentiary institutions and the Russian authorities in general. 


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