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    What’s Life Like for Russia’s Political Prisoners? Isolation, Poor Food and Arbitrary Punishment

    What's Life Like for Russia's Political Prisoners? Isolation, Poor Food and Arbitrary Punishment

    TALLINN, — Vladimir Kara-Murza could only laugh when officials in Penal Colony No. 6 inexplicably put a small cabinet in his already-cramped concrete cell, next to a fold-up cot, stool, sink and latrine.

    That moment of dark humor came because the only things he had to store in it were a toothbrush and a mug, said his wife, Yevgenia, since the opposition activist wasn't allowed any personal belongings in solitary confinement.

    Another time, she said, Kara-Murza was told to collect his bedding from across the corridor — except that prisoners must keep their hands behind their backs whenever outside their cells.

    “How was he supposed to pick it up? With his teeth?” Yevgenia Kara-Murza told The Associated Press. When he collected the sheets, a guard with a camera appeared and told him he violated the rules, bringing more discipline.

    For political prisoners like Kara-Murza, life in 's penal colonies is a grim reality of physical and psychological pressure, sleep deprivation, insufficient food, health care that is poor or simply denied, and a dizzying set of arbitrary rules.

    This month brought the stunning news from a remote Arctic penal colony, one of Russia's harshest facilities: the still-unexplained death of Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin's fiercest foe.

    “No one in the Russian penitentiary system is safe,” says Grigory Vaypan, a lawyer with Memorial, a group founded to document repression in the Soviet…

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