For many years, Lefortovo jail has been a logo of oppression and management in Russia, particularly for individuals who dare to problem energy. It’s inside these partitions that American journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested in March, stays detained, awaiting trial on espionage fees — which he, the White Home and Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Avenue Journal, strongly deny.
Lefortovo serves as a pretrial detention middle. Nonetheless, prisoners can spend years there. Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was on the jail for 2 years earlier than being convicted on fees of espionage and is now serving 16-year sentence at a penal colony.
Primarily based on descriptions from inmates, attorneys and jail displays, together with letters and sketches, in addition to documentaries and images of Lefortovo, The Put up constructed a portrait of what life is like contained in the jail.
Ivan Safronov, a Russian journalist serving a 22-year sentence in Krasnodar for treason, spent over two years in Lefortovo, from 2020 to 2022. In a letter to The Put up about his time there, he wrote, “the aim is to isolate an individual, to ‘freeze’ them to be able to get confessions from them.”
Aerial view of Lefortovo Jail
Diagram displaying the Ok form of the jail and its cells alongside the Ok’s wings
Diagram highlighting the slender corridors the place prisoners are allowed to stroll
Lefortovo was constructed within the late 1800s, throughout Tsarist rule, and it lies on the japanese fringe of the capital.
The yellow-walled, four-story constructing was constructed within the form of the letter Ok. Former inmates describe a facility designed to instill concern, isolation and despair.
Within the corridors outdoors the cells, all sound is muted by previous, worn carpets.
“They don’t seem to be for magnificence or for pleasing the eyes of prisoners however in order that steps don’t break the utter crypt-like silence, one that’s oppressive and makes your ears ring,” wrote Valentin Moiseyev, a Russian diplomat who was accused of espionage in 1998 and spent 3½ years in Lefortovo, in his memoir “How I Was a ‘South Korean Spy.”
Throughout Soviet rule, a KGB wing was added to the compound and was later occupied by its successor company, the Federal Safety Service (FSB). Within the early 2000s, Lefortovo was reassigned from the FSBto the Ministry of Justice due to the Council of Europe requirement that prohibits investigative our bodies from working prisons.
However in actuality, solely a door separates the FSB from the jail, in accordance with a state tv documentary in regards to the facility.
Safronov recalled that detainees are allowed day by day walks on Lefortovo’s roof, confined to restricted train yards. Russia’s penitentiary service rules say the walks final an hour. A central radio system is usually turned on to blast music throughout the compound — one other means to make sure the prisoners can’t hear one another, a guard instructed the documentarian.
After an preliminary 10-day quarantine, prisoners are transferred to the cells the place they’re both stored alone or joined by as much as two cellmates.
Every almost similar cell, in accordance with archival plans obtained by Memorial, a Russian human rights group, and confirmed by sketches by Alexei Melnikov, a member of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Fee — a company that paperwork the therapy of prisoners, is roughly eight sq. meters, no bigger than 85 sq. ft.
A small, barred window with restricted pure mild could be opened utilizing a particular lever, permitting prisoners to see a part of the sky.
The bathroom presents little privateness. A tiled half-wall separates it from the closest mattress within the cramped cell.
There may be additionally a sink, a fridge and at the least one wall cupboard for storing meals bought from the jail retailer or delivered by relations. A desk and chair are bolted to the ground. And there’s a TV, which solely broadcasts state channels.
Moiseyev wrote in his memoir that in his time in Lefortovo, an officer regarded into the peephole each two or three minutes.
Detainees go away their cells just for walks, interrogations, medical checkups or courtroom hearings. They’re allowed to take showers as soon as every week, Safronov instructed The Put up.
Former inmates and attorneys who visited Lefortovo describe it as a Soviet time capsule, with shabby flooring, thick oil paint on the partitions, portraits of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who created the Soviet secret police equipment, and the odor of mud and previous papers.
Lefortovo served as one of many major websites utilized by the key police throughout Joseph Stalin’s Nice Purge within the Thirties. It grew to become a spot of violent interrogations, torture and executions.
Attorneys, jail displays and up to date inmates interviewed by The Put up mentioned that they had solely learn of bodily abuse in Soviet-era accounts about Lefortovo, and haven’t skilled it themselves. It’s the psychological stress that defines the torment of prisoners there.
“In Lefortovo, its well-established regime and the habits of the employees suppresses you; from the very first minute, they make it clear that you’re nothing, that you’re alone right here and fully on the mercy of this jail, and that the best way out of it’s attainable solely by full submission to the system that it serves,” Moiseyev wrote.
In his memoir, Russian dissident and author Eduard Limonov describes how detainees are escorted from their cell to one of many interrogation rooms to the sound of the ominous, metallic clicks. Jail guards snap their fingers or use particular metallic clickers to warn everybody round to clear the trail. The prisoner should not be allowed to see one other prisoner in convoy on their means by, Limonov wrote.
“Although they don’t seem to be crushed, prisoners discover themselves in harsh situations the place the opportunity of any communication between cells is dominated out,” Melnikov mentioned.
Safronov wrote in his letter to The Put up that it took him six months to regulate to life inside Lefortovo.
“The foundations of entry into this jail are additionally the hardest out of all Moscow detention amenities,” mentioned Vadim Prokhorov, a outstanding Russian lawyer who steadily visited his purchasers there, describing how he’s completely checked by jail authorities coming out and in of Lefortovo.
Prokhorov defined that there are nearly six rooms within the compound allotted for conferences with prisoners, hardly sufficient for the 200-300 individuals held there on common, most of whom are a part of high-profile instances and want frequent communication with their authorized groups.
“I’m certain that is finished on objective,” the lawyer mentioned. “Shortage and deficit are all the time helpful to the officers inside a totalitarian system.”
In line with Prokhorov, in 2016 attorneys created a draw — numbers in a bag that supply a sure time slot — that might assure them entry to their consumer at the least as soon as each different week.
Contact with the skin world
Whereas prisoners are restricted from interacting with anybody however their cellmate, attorneys and the jail guards, they’re able to ship and obtain letters. These letters, as in any penitentiary establishment on the planet, are learn and censored.
Technically, telephone calls are allowed however prisoners should file a petition, and authorities then evaluation and finally have the fitting to veto requests.
“Since I didn’t admit guilt, I acquired just one telephone name throughout my two years in Lefortovo,” Safronov wrote.
Lefortovo is reported to have a great library. Books are routinely checked to make sure that there aren’t any notes or messages within the margins.
Gershkovich’s attorneys mentioned he’s holding himself busy whereas at Lefortovo.
Following a courtroom look in mid-April, lawyer Tatyana Nozhkina mentioned Gershkovich stays upbeat and in good well being. He spends his time watching culinary packages on TV, exercising and studying Russian classics, together with Leo Tolstoy’s “Struggle and Peace.”