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Vadim Kuramshin – first letter from penal colony “Zhaman-Sopka”

Vadim in courtVadim Kuramshin, the human rights lawyer sentenced for 12 years for a crime he did not commit (see here) has finally reached his prison camp destination. We carry below his first letter which describes his journey and how he is faring.

We are appealing for letters to be sent to the address given at the head of the letter. When he arrived at the camp, Vadim was treated better than on previous occasions, undoubtedly because of the international publicity given to the blatant injustice that has been meted out to him. If he receives a constant stream of letters – in any language – it has some chance of affecting the way the authorities look on him.
Please also keep in contact with us via the address of the campaign.

Vadim Kuramshin,
Severnaya Oblast Kazakhstan, Yesilskii paiun,
Poselok Gornii, Uchr EC 164/4
Kazakhstan 150506

On the morning of 14th March, twelve people, including me, travelling to the Special Regime Colony of “Zhaman-Sopka”, were loaded into two prison vans and taken from the prison in the city of Petropavlovsk. Those joining me in the van in which I ended up were all, without exception, people who had already served sentences. Everyone had, at some time, cut their wrists in an attempt to escape torture. In other words, they were all hardened. I had spent my time in Petropavlosk awaiting transfer in one cell tohether with these people.

Just to go back a bit, all the time I was kept behind walls – at first in the remand prison in Petropavlovsk and then for 15 days in quarantine – this was one of the calmest times, one of the least worrying of my time in prison. At least relatively. The prison environment is one of continuous stress. In one day in prison, a person can end up in all sorts of situations that can end in nervous breakdown, of the sort that an ordinary person would not experience in a whole year elsewhere. This is understandable as here you don’t find things are “fluffy and white”, as is said in Russian! But in the company of these people, I was able to get my thoughts together, to rest psychologically before getting into what is my new subject: “Life in Zhaman”.

The journey

It took five hours to get to our destination. The road was bad, at one time we even had to be towed out of a pot-hole. Each of us was thinking about what would happen on our arrival. Everyone was bracing themselves for a “warm reception” – either having to run the gauntlet, to have “a roasting” or being tortured “on your own”. I was thinking about this too. But not one of us let the others know what was going through our minds. On the contrary, each of us tried to give the impression that we couldn’t care less. There was much joking, sometimes one of the convicts succeeded in causing laughter, often not. But no-one who had been in the van displayed the sort of bravado that you can often hear from first-timers. In a word, we were already hardened.

As we got close to the prison colony, as soon as “Zhaman-Sopka” appeared on the horizon, my fellow comrades in suffering, as if by agreement, began to take turns in offering me support, and of course joking.

Arrival and birthday

Everyone was waiting in expectation to see how the guards would treat me. They all acted in the same way. They didn’t beat me! Of course there was no red carpet and orchestra. But at the same time there was not even the most minor of provocations – usually a form of test. This lasted for the whole 15 days while I was in ‘quarantine’. This is the first time in my life when, during quarantine, I have not been tortured, suffered beatings or the like. I was not even insulted.

Whilst still in quarantine, on the 26th March, I had my 39th birthday. That morning I managed to get two cups of tea and added concentrated milk and celebrated in that way. A couple of days later I was released from isolation into the zone. As was to be expected I was sent into the drill squad. I will be kept in full isolation for a year. If, for example, someone wants to have a go at me or my family, to do so would be fairly easy. Just one argument and I would have no chance to see my family, as is normally accepted to be fair in a colony. Considering how ill my mother is, who, without exaggeration, does not have long to live, this would mean that the meeting I had with her, whilst in prison in Taraz would have been my last.

When I got into the drill squad, it seemed that a couple of surprises awaited me. As usually happens, the most difficult part was to “meet the masses”. I can even give a few humorous examples. Amongst the prisoners there are a few accepted guidelines on how to appeal against illegal action by the prison authorities. Apparently the first of these guidelines is, word for word, to “appeal to the Supreme Commissioner for Human Rights, Vadim Kuramshin”. Funny? At first, I thought it was. Until I arrived at the prison camp. Once in prison, this idea, first thought up by someone as a joke, is taken seriously.
To escape the responsibilities of this title is almost impossible. I haven’t slept for nights on end. Last night I didn’t get a second’s sleep. Yesterday I managed to drop off, but at 01.30 opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling until roll-call. The sleeplessness is excruciating. It leaves you so that that you cannot help people out, you simply cannot talk to people. This has been the most difficult thing for me at the start of my sentence. Today, as I was taken out for exercise, I couldn’t face talking to anyone any more and returned to my cell.
I know that holding back, ignoring my environment will be just impossible. Obviously, my perspective is not good. It seems I have got what I deserved!