The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Alexei Navalny will not be silent

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service at a courtroom in June 7. (AP Photo/Vladimir Kondrashov)

Alexei Navalny, the most prominent voice opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin, now serving an 11½-year prison sentence on phony charges, cannot sit still or stay quiet. He recently declared himself a “one-man labor union” dedicated to improving prison conditions. The authorities threw him into solitary confinement, a form of mental and physical torture.

An action-reaction cycle has marked Mr. Navalny’s long crusade against the Putin regime’s corruption and despotism: He criticizes, Mr. Putin punishes. And yet Mr. Navalny perseveres. He passes messages through lawyers and supporters, and they post them on Twitter.

“Greetings from solitary confinement,” his account tweeted Monday.

“The Kremlin wants to see its Gulag composed of silent slaves. But here I am, rallying people and demanding that some laws be obeyed, instead of begging for pardon.”

Mr. Navalny said he was seen on prison surveillance video “regularly unbuttoning the top button of my prison robe while in the industrial zone (the robe is just a few sizes too small for me)” and that minor infraction caused him to be hauled before the prison commission and moved to solitary confinement, known as the Special Housing Unit.

“This, of course, characterizes me as an unrepentant, incorrigible villain.”

“It’s only 3 days so far, but in the middle of September I have a visit from my relatives, which I am supposed to have once every 4 months. No visits are allowed to those in the SHU, so they say that unless I ‘reconsider my attitude,’ it will become my permanent residence. It is not clear what attitude I should reconsider. Toward slave labor? Or toward Putin?”

“Normally, you can’t spend more than 15 days in the SHU, but this rule is easily circumvented. They lock you up for 15 days, release you, and then put you back there for another 15 days. The SHU is a 2.5x3 meter concrete kennel. Most of the time it’s unbearable in there because it’s cold and damp. There’s water on the floor. I got the beach version — it’s very hot and there’s almost no air.

“The window is tiny, but the walls are too thick for any air flow — even the cobwebs don’t move. There’s no ventilation. At night you lie there and feel like a fish on the shore. The iron bunk is fastened to the wall, like in a train, but the lever that lowers it is outside.”

“No visits, no letters, no parcels. This is the only place in the prison where even smoking is prohibited. They only give me paper and pen for 1 hour and 15 minutes a day.”

“There are constant searches, I always need to keep my hands behind my back. All in all, it’s fun, just like in the movies. It’s okay, it can be worse.

“I am now sitting on an iron bench behind an iron desk. I’m going to finish this thread and write a manual for inmates about their workplace rights until they take the paper away.

“The commission is right: I really seem to be incorrigible.”

He is also a stalwart fighter for a Russia free of the Putin stain. When Russia eventually emerges from the petty authoritarianism misruling the country, Mr. Navalny’s fellow citizens must remember his sacrifice.

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