Moscow prison whistleblower under pressure

Senior lieutenant Alexey Kozlov, responsible for educational work at Butyrka pre-trial prison in Moscow, has virtually lost his job after having publically criticised the penitentiary system. He has appealed to rights activists and journalists whistleblowing on prisoners’ rights abuse.

Butyrka pre-trial prison (the accused are kept there at the time of criminal proceedings) became notorious when Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergey Magnitsky died after spending almost half a year there in conditions rights activists later called torturous. Kozlov came to Butyrka soon after Magnitsky died and eyewitnessed violations which, in his perspective, could lead to similar tragedies. Alexey Kozlov told Index about his concerns and consequences of his whistleblowing.

–        ­Why have you decided to work in the Russian penitentiary system and particularly Butyrka prison?

–        I wanted to become a general one day; I found it romantic. I’ve been in the system for eight years: I worked in Moscow pre-trial prison Medvedkovo and in the convoy department. In February 2010 I came to work in Butyrka. I’ve been doing my job in line with the law and did everything to enhance its prestige.

–        What made you criticise the system you worked in?

–        I’ve been a witness of double standards towards prisoners. Some get everything, some are unfairly oppressed. Here’s how it works. Prison staff are supposed to convoy inmates to working places – prison premises repairs, for example. Normally they don’t do this because the prison is simply out of staff. Prisoners are unofficially told to go to their working places on their own, having to unlock the doors with handmade passkeys. If they follow the rules and don’t go alone, they may get punishment for not arriving to their working place. If they do go, they may get punishments for going alone. A prisoner is put in a position when he can have penalties imposed on him either way. This triggers corruption.

I’ve also never seen a prisoner who spent a day in court be brought to shower, although this is staff duty.

And I am  concerned about medical care in prisons. One of the inmates, HIV-positive, told me he hasn’t received proper medical care for three months. He ended up having high fever and pneumonia. Only then was he delivered to hospital. I’ve also seen that when a prisoner gets sick and acute care arrives, they in the prison for an unjustified long time before taking the prisoner out to the hospital.

All these violations have been evident to the prison’s superiors, but no one seems to do anything about them.

–        What are the consequences of your allegations?

–        Before talking to rights activist Vladimir Osechkin I talked to my bosses about violations I saw and heard of from prisoners. First they told me to mind my own business. Then they subjected me to full examination — that is undressed me — in front of the prisoners. After I made the violations public, they called on extraordinary meeting to criticise me. The Moscow Department of the Russian Correction Service, together with Moscow Prosecutor’s Office said they investigated the facts I made public and didn’t find any confirmations. As far as I know they were uninterested and haven’t checked properly. According to my sources the head of the prison has signed papers to fire me. Actually I have already lost my job as my superiors told me I was no longer in charge of educational work and had to guard the entrance to Butyrka.

–        Weren’t you going to quit yourself or do you still think the system can be improved from within?

–        My bosses in Butyrka told me I shouldn’t have brought facts “to the outside”. But long before that I was taught to tell the truth, which I did. I am ready to repeat them in court if needed. it is not impossible to improve the system from within, one should just stay honest. And if they fire me, I’ll most probably become a human rights activist fighting not just for prisoners, but for honest prison workers. They do exist and they support me.