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How to Force Feed a Prisoner

Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s brief but successful hunger strike this week was based upon an unusual request:  he was seeking confirmation that President Dmitry Medvedev was aware that Russian courts are disobeying a law Medvedev himself had recently gotten enacted.

Here’s the background: Dmitry Medvedev has been making lots of noises about the need to reform Russia’s criminal justice system, and recently actually did something about it, pushing through an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure that categorically rules out pre-trial detention in Russia’s infamous “investigative isolators” for economic crimes.

So you would think that Mikhail Khodorkovsky would be released when the latest three-month extension of his stay at Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina isolator expired this month (well, actually, he still wouldn’t be released, because he’s been denied parole in the eight-year sentence he’s serving after his first show trial, but that’s another story). But you would be wrong. Because there’s an invisible footnote to every article of the Code of Criminal Procedure stating “Does not apply to Mikhail Khodorkovsky”.


And so it was that just several days ago, the prosecution once againbrought a motion in court requesting another three-month extensiondespite the new law prohibiting it, and then the court, also ignoringthe new law that Medvedev himself had championed, granted the motion.Which brings us to the hunger strike.

Khodorkovsky is not asking for his own release. He states quitepragmatically that he knows he has no chance of release as long as thecurrent regime remains in power in Russia. Khodorkovsky is concernedabout the very strong and very wrong message such a blatant disregardfor the law in his high profile case will send to every judge and everyprocurator in Russia – that it’s perfectly okay to completely ignore thelaw, even a brand new law enacted with such fanfare at the initiativeof the president himself.

And so Khodorkovsky has stated in a letter to the Chairman of theSupreme Court that he will continue his hunger strike until he haslearned that Dmitry Medvedev has been made thoroughly aware that thepublic officials he has appointed to implement the law are flagrantlyignoring even the very law he authored in an attempt to reform thecriminal justice system; in other words – that legal nihilism is stillalive and well in Russia and is running roughshod over any attempts toreinstate the rule of law.

But all of this is just a long introduction to the followingexclusive translation of a story from the Interfax news agency, which wefound to be quite an eye-opener. In it, an unnamed source from theFederal Service for the Execution of Punishments (an agency that was farbetter known, several name-changes ago, as GULag), explains whatKhodorkovsky can expect from his jailers now that he has declared hishunger strike.

The prospects appear quite gruesome: First, they throw you insolitary and actually take all your food away! Then they conductresearch on your organism, prodding and poking you to take samples offluids from your already weakened body, and force you to undergocountless interviews with prison officials and FSB operatives who onlytell you they can do nothing for you. And finally, if all that stillhasn’t killed you, they tie you up and force-feed you sour milk through atube shoved down your larynx (in case you’ve forgotten your high schoolanatomy, that’s the pathway into your lungs, not your stomach)!

FSIN source: “They will put the hunger-striking Khodorkovsky insolitary and will keep track of his health”

Moscow. 18 May. INTERFAX – Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has declared ahunger strike, is going to be placed in a solitary cell, whereresearching of his condition is going to be conducted daily, reported asource in the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments (FSIN) ofthe RF to “Interfax”.

“In accordance with the established order, a person who has declared ahunger strike is placed in a solitary cell. All personal food productsare confiscated from him”, – said the agency’s interlocutor on Tuesday.

In his words, the medical personnel of the institution conductresearch on the prisoner’s organism daily, including weighing, measuring[blood] pressure and taking [samples for] analysis, the results ofwhich are entered in a special ledger.

“The question of forced feeding may arise in some 10 days. Servingas the ground for this, as a rule, is the appearance of acetone in theurine of the hunger-striker”, – clarified the FSIN employee.

He noted that in this case, the feeding is carried out with the helpof a special tube, introduced through the person’s larynx [sic], while”the food consists of special sour-milk compounds”.

Such an order for dealing with a person who has declared a hungerstrike in places of isolation from society, confirmed by a joint orderof Minjust and Minhealth RF.

Together with that, the “Interfax” source underlined that “cases offorced feeding of prisoners in the Moscow SIZOs [investigativeisolators] have not occurred, as a minimum, in the last six years” .

“Constant interviews by representatives of the procuracy, theoperatives team, the management of the institution, human rightsombudsmen are conducted for the duration of the hunger strike with thecitizen who has declared it. Practice shows that in all cases theperson under investigation can be talked out of continuing the hungerstrike”, – said the FSIN employee.

He clarified that if the hunger strike is connected with theconditions of detention of the prisoner in the isolator, the managementadopts measures for remedying these inconveniences.

“But if the complaint is connected with the investigation of acriminal case, it is clarified to the person under investigation thatneither the management of the institutions, nor other civic institutionshave the powers to influence its course and, in such a manner, thehunger strike is not achieving its objective”, – noted the agency’sinterlocutor.