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Inside Lefortovo, the Russian jail holding journalist Evan Gershkovich Lalrp


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 prices — which he, the White Home and Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Avenue Journal, strongly deny.

Evan Gershkovich seems in court docket in Moscow on April 18. (For The Washington Submit)

Lefortovo serves as a pretrial detention heart. 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 prices of espionage and is now serving 16-year sentence at a penal colony.

Based mostly on descriptions from inmates, legal professionals and jail displays, together with letters and sketches, in addition to documentaries and images of Lefortovo, The Submit 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 Submit about his time there, he wrote, “the aim is to isolate an individual, to ‘freeze’ them in an effort to get confessions from them.”

Aerial view of Lefortovo Jail

Diagram exhibiting the Okay form of the jail and its cells alongside the Okay’s wings

Diagram highlighting the slim corridors the place prisoners are allowed to stroll

Lefortovo was constructed within the late 1800s, throughout Tsarist rule, and is lies on the japanese fringe of the capital.

The yellow-walled, four-story constructing was constructed within the form of the letter Okay. Former inmates describe a facility designed to instill concern, isolation and despair.

Within the corridors exterior the cells, all sound is muted by outdated, worn carpets.

“They aren’t 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, based on a state tv documentary concerning the facility.

Safronov recalled that detainees are allowed every day walks on Lefortovo’s roof, confined to restricted train yards. Russia’s penitentiary service laws say the walks final an hour. A central radio system is usually turned on to blast music throughout the compound — one other manner to make sure the prisoners can’t hear one another, a guard informed the documentarian.

After an preliminary 10-day quarantine, prisoners are transferred to the cells the place they’re both saved alone or joined by as much as two cellmates.

Every practically similar cell, based on 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 corporation that paperwork the remedy of prisoners, is roughly eight sq. meters, no bigger than 85 sq. ft.

A small, barred window with restricted pure mild might be opened utilizing a particular lever, permitting prisoners to see a part of the sky.

The bathroom provides little privateness. A tiled half-wall separates it from the closest mattress within the cramped cell.

There’s additionally a sink, a fridge and not less than 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 court docket hearings. They’re allowed to take showers as soon as per week, Safronov informed The Submit.

Former inmates and legal professionals 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 scent of mud and outdated papers.

[Russia’s Lefortovo prison is a relic of Soviet control that never left]

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.

Psychological Strain

Legal professionals, jail displays and up to date inmates interviewed by The Submit stated that they had solely learn of bodily abuse in Soviet-era accounts about Lefortovo, and haven’t skilled it themselves. It’s the psychological strain that defines the torment of prisoners there.

“In Lefortovo, its well-established regime and the habits of the workers 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 way in which 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 steel clickers to warn everybody round to clear the trail. The prisoner should not be allowed to see one other prisoner in convoy on their manner by, Limonov wrote.

“Although they don’t seem to be overwhelmed, prisoners discover themselves in harsh situations the place the potential for any communication between cells is dominated out,” Melnikov stated.

Safronov wrote in his letter to The Submit that it took him six months to regulate to life inside Lefortovo.

“The principles of entry into this jail are additionally the hardest out of all Moscow detention services,” stated Vadim Prokhorov, a distinguished Russian lawyer who ceaselessly visited his purchasers there, describing how he’s totally 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 circumstances and want frequent communication with their authorized groups.

“I’m positive that is completed on function,” the lawyer stated. “Shortage and deficit are all the time helpful to the officers inside a totalitarian system.”

In accordance with Prokhorov, in 2016 legal professionals created a draw — numbers in a bag that supply a sure time slot — that might assure them entry to their consumer not less than as soon as each different week.

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An out of doors view of Lefortovo jail, the yellow-walled, four-story constructing positioned on the japanese fringe of Moscow. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Photographs)

Contact with the surface world

Whereas prisoners are restricted from interacting with anybody however their cellmate, legal professionals and the jail guards, they’re able to ship and obtain letters. These letters, as in any penitentiary establishment on the earth, are learn and censored.

Technically, cellphone calls are allowed however prisoners should file a petition, and authorities then overview and in the end have the suitable to veto requests.

“Since I didn’t admit guilt, I obtained just one cellphone name throughout my two years in Lefortovo,” Safronov wrote.

Lefortovo is reported to have an excellent library. Books are routinely checked to make sure that there aren’t any notes or messages within the margins.

Gershkovich’s legal professionals stated he’s holding himself busy whereas at Lefortovo.

Following a court docket look in mid-April, lawyer Tatyana Nozhkina stated Gershkovich stays upbeat and in good well being. He spends his time watching culinary applications on TV, exercising and studying Russian classics, together with Leo Tolstoy’s “Struggle and Peace.”

Salman Raduyev, a Chechen separatist commander who was distinguished in the course of the First Chechen Struggle, is pictured in a Lefortovo cell quickly after his arrest in 2000. (Itar Tass/ Related Press )
About this story

The visualizations of Lefortovo’s interiors are primarily based on sketches supplied by jail monitor Alexei Melnikov, archival plans published by Memorial, one of many oldest civil rights teams in Russia, and accounts from former inmates and legal professionals who visited the jail. The scale of the room and placement of furnishings fluctuate barely from cell to cell.