Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny gave his first interview from prison, comparing it to a Chinese labor camp and claiming he is forced to watch eight hours of state television a day.
Navalny, who built his political career exposing corruption in Russia, is being held in a maximum-security penal colony in Pokrov, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Moscow.
He told the New York Times that the days of hard work in the Soviet gulags were over – replaced by what he called the “emotional abuse” of brainwashing and propaganda.
“You can imagine muscular tattooed men with steel teeth fighting with knives for the best bed by the window,” Navalny said in the interview released Wednesday.
“You have to imagine something like a Chinese labor camp, where everyone is walking online and video cameras are hung everywhere. There is constant monitoring and a culture of the snitch.
He said the guards watched them as they watched hours of state propaganda, not allowing them to read or write and waking inmates if they fell asleep.
But Navalny remained optimistic about the future of Vladimir Putin’s regime, insisting it would one day come to an end.
“Sooner or later this mistake will be corrected and Russia will embark on a path of democratic and European development. Quite simply because it is what the people want, ”he declared.
He also reiterated criticism from the United States and European governments for the sanctions against Russia, which he said harms the Russian people rather than those in power.
He said he was not assaulted by any fellow inmate and even described “having fun” making snacks with them.
Navalny has not been silent since his imprisonment in March, posting a letter from prison and also managing several social media posts, but the interview with The Times was the first since his imprisonment.
Western intelligence agencies have assessed with “great confidence” that FSB agents poisoned Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok last year.
The dissident was flown to Germany for treatment, but defiantly returned to Russia in January, before being arrested and sent to the penal colony.
The Kremlin denies poisoning Navalny and has maintained that his prison term is not political.
This month he was charged with new crimes that could extend his prison term by three years. If found guilty, he could not be released until after 2024, when Russia is due to hold a presidential election.
His movement faced unprecedented pressure ahead of September’s parliamentary elections in Russia, in which Putin’s United Russia party is expected to wrestle.
© 2021 AFP