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4 Feb, 2021 19:09

Moscow officials deny conditions at post-protest detention centers are overcrowded as journalist live-blogs time behind bars

Moscow officials deny conditions at post-protest detention centers are overcrowded as journalist live-blogs time behind bars

A row has broken out over conditions in Russian jails as facilities struggle to accommodate the large number of arrests made at protests earlier this week in support of imprisoned opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

A series of photographs published on Thursday, purportedly taken by detainees at the Sakharovo immigration detention center in the Moscow Region, which has been co-opted to house arrested demonstrators, show them sleeping two to a bunkbed, or resting at picnic tables. One cell, equipped with four metal beds without mattresses, reportedly housed 28 people. The scenes sparked concern for the wellbeing of inmates when they emerged online.

However, later the same day, the Russian Interior Ministry said the snaps were not reflective of the true conditions people were being held in. Instead, they claimed, only those awaiting processing were being held in the large dorm-rooms and they would soon be admitted to regular cells in line with standard practice.

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Despite that, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that some disruption to the normal functioning of jails was to be expected, given the large numbers of those arrested. “There are more detained than the detention centers can handle, and there are more detainees than can be processed in a short time,” he said. “But first of all, we need to say that these are people who took part in illegal actions. Of course, though, the relevant authorities are taking all possible measures to rectify this situation.”

One high-profile prisoner has scarcely been out of the camera lens since a court ordered him to spend 25 days behind bars over claims he encouraged attendance at the protests. Sergey Smirnov, the editor of the opposition-leaning Mediazona website, was given the sentence for retweeting a graphic containing details of when a march in Moscow was to take place.

Initially, Smirnov appeared in a crowded communal cell at the detention center. However, pictures and clips taken on mobile phones soon emerged of him having been moved to more spacious accommodation. In comments made to RT, the prison authorities said Smirnov “is placed in a four-bed cell, non-smoking. He and his neighbors have been given mattresses, pillows, blankets, and hygiene supplies.”

In a video posted to social media, the journalist opined that, “if you have to choose between waiting in a cold truck and the cell where they put us in the morning, the cell is better.”

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