Grigory Pasko: Siberian Prisoner Interviews, Part III

One more businessman… By Grigory Pasko, journalist Yuri Mari lives in Chita. He is 49 years old, and he is a local entrepreneur, engaged in logging and the sale of timber by license to the Chinese. His business was growing successfully until competitors decided to grab it for themselves. As I understood it, the competitors are either people close to the police or maybe even are themselves police. But that’s not really so important. What is important is that Yuri was charged with taking the law into his own hands, resisting the law-enforcement organs. A criminal case was initiated and Yuri was thrown into an investigative isolator – the SIZO of the city of Chita. That same one where another businessman has been sitting since December 2006 – Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The innocent man sat there 9 months. He was released recently, in February of this year. There never was a trial. For now. Because permanent interim court sessions continue. To this should be added that after being detained by employees of the law-enforcement organs, Yuri has in essence turned into an invalid: he has problems with his spine, they had shattered his kneecaps, he moves around with difficulty and lives on injections. Third Story: Yuri Mari marii.jpg Photo of Yuri Mari by Grigory Pasko Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s cell just happened to be right above the one where I sat for nearly nine months. I saw him only once, and then by chance. They’re hiding him from everybody, after all, he’s under very high security. When they drive him to the procuracy for familiarization with the case, the van is backed right up to the doors. And there’s always a lot of security. Like he’s some big Mafioso or a hardened old criminal. This was my first time in jail. I immediately understood that conditions for human life don’t exist there. Everything is aimed at quashing what is human in a human being. For example, the medical assistance is bad. You can only get into the medical unit once every 24 hours. At the examination I say: my leg hurts. We don’t have medicines, they answer me. To some extent it was simpler for me. Many knew me before I was imprisoned. In the Trans-Baikal region, the contingent of ex-convicts is large. I had many former convicts working on my crew. I was the manager of a logging enterprise. When they tossed me in the SIZO, there were 50 people in the cell. I’m a sick man, and it was hard for me with such a quantity of people. I asked the administration to transfer me to a cell with fewer people. They empathized with a sick person and transferred me to a so-called BS cell (BS is the Russian abbreviation for “former employees”—G.P.). They’d beaten be seriously during the arrest, they’d gouged out the disks of my knees [probably the cartilage—Trans.], there were hernias, strong pain in the legs and the small of the back. There were 15 of us in that cell. The medical assistance was a bit better. Reveille at 6 AM. They play the Russian national anthem. Like it or not, you get to learn it by heart. Breakfast right after that, because they bring the food – the gruel – up to the floor at 4 AM, and by 7 AM it gets cold. You can eat it if you want, or not eat it if you don’t want. And those who were intending to go to investigative actions or to courts were already taken out of the cells at 5 AM. They didn’t have breakfast at all. And they weren’t fed lunch either. Only one was given a meal in a bag, because he was complaining trying to secure observance of his rights. The employees often do things the way it’s convenient for them, and not how it’s written in the law and the rules for the confinement of prisoners. The convoy guards have their own rules. They drive to the courts according to their own rules. For example, they’re not allowed to have laces on their boots, but in the prison these are permitted. We found out our rights with difficulty, because the texts of the rules weren’t given to us, they hid them from us. And they began to observe these rules only with the arrival of Khodorkovsky. Probably because visits by various examination commissions became more frequent and, apparently, the administration was afraid of mass complaints about the conditions of confinement. It’s probably too late to ever change some things. For example the crowding. There’s no sense in even talking about the 4 square meters per person that are prescribed by the conventions. The old building was renovated especially for the arrival of Khodorkovsky. And we were transferred into this building. But it’s not habitable yet, it’s cold. Damp. It took us a long time to bring the cell into order. The alarm system was being installed there, the heating was being made to work. Some of the changes that took place were for the better. The employees of the administration started being rude less often. The duty officer contingent was replaced. But some things got worse, too: before they’d turn the other way and pretend they didn’t see the “zeks” using mobile phones, but with Khodorkovsky’s arrival the jamming devices started working, they took phones away, constant searches in the cells. I saw Khodorkovsky one time. He was walking from the call center [probably the visitation room—Trans.] with a notebook in his hands. He was being led separately by four people. And we were being led to the sauna. They yelled at us: up against the wall, no talking. I saw Mikhail Borisovich, nodded at him, greeted him: “Zdravstvuyte, Mikhail Borisovich!” I wanted to add “let’s connect”, but I came to my senses in time: he may have perceived this as a provocation, and it could even turn out bad for him. The confining of Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev in the Chita SIZO has reflected on the appearance of the entire city. I say that so far, only two historical events have had a drastic impact on the life of Chita: the exile of the Decembrists in 1826 and the arrival of Khodorkovsky in 2006. When they drive Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to the Oblast procuracy for familiarization with the case, they shut down the entire city. Snipers on the rooftops, police all over the place… Even when murderers were transported and gangsters, they didn’t shut down the city. A person who ran a gigantic enterprise, a company, turned out to be a criminal. Although he had been examined, but the examiners are free for some reason. How can this be? I think that the trial will be in Chita, since they’ve got this kind of security, the investigators come in from Moscow… They’ve got the shutting down of the city all worked out already… And the new charges – this is obvious – are fabricated, so as not to allow any kind of participation by Khodorkovsky in the elections. I was told about one incident. Anybody can make a purchase from the prison shop at the SIZO – all you need is money. Up to 2 thousand rubles per month. Everybody knows Khodorkovsky has 60 thousand rubles lying on his account. So he ordered cigarettes and water that he had had recommended to him. Both the water and the cigarettes were expensive. So after this, the operative workers [the special guards assigned to hound Khodorkovsky 24 hours a day—Trans.] actually went out of their way to have both this water and these cigarettes disappear from the shop. Just so Khodorkovsky wouldn’t buy them.