Loser in the Rosneft float rots in Siberian prison cell

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Today will be much the same as every other day for the inmates of Krasnokamensk penal colony IK-10 in eastern Siberia. As President Vladimir Putin greets the world leaders gathered 4,000 miles away in Moscow for the G8 Summit, Mikhail Khodorkovsky will wake, as usual, in the cramped barracks he shares with 80 prisoners. It is day 994 of his incarceration for tax fraud - 1,926 days to go.

Krasnokamensk, it hardly needs saying, is no holiday camp. Built in the 1960s to house 1,000 prisoners, it provides labour for a nearby uranium mine and processing plant. The jail and surrounding area are said to be heavily contaminated with radioactive waste which is seeping into the water table. Human rights monitors have declared Krasnokamensk an environmental catastrophe. The region, which borders Mongolia and China, also suffers from extreme weather. Right now, it is suffocatingly hot but in the winter the temperature can drop to -33C.

After a breakfast of porridge or bread and boiled potatoes (there is no fruit, fish or eggs and little meat), the daily grind begins. Convicts work either in the nearby Priargunsky uranium plant or, if they are lucky, in the car repair, carpentry and sewing workshops in the penal colony. Khodorkovsky works in the sewing room for 10 hours a day.

The Russians could not have chosen to imprison him in a more remote or godforsaken place. From Moscow, where his wife and three children live, the journey to the prison takes six hours by plane and then a further 15 hours by train. Since Krasnokamensk is six hours ahead of Moscow, it takes more than a day to complete the trip.

Khodorkovsky is allowed four visits a year from relatives, although his lawyers have more frequent access. His mother Marina and his wife Inna have visited three times but his father is too frail to undertake the journey and his children have not seen him for nearly three years.

His has limited contact with the outside world. He gets the odd newspaper but is not allowed access to the internet and can watch only what the other inmates want to watch on television. But this does not mean the outside world has forgotten about Khodorkovsky. He receives 500 letters a day and there is a website dedicated to his trial and imprisonment and the ongoing battle to win compensation for his former company Yukos.

He has no special privileges in jail - in fact it is the opposite. He is watched constantly by two special guards and has been placed in solitary confinement three times since his transfer to Krasnokamensk in October - on one occasion for drinking tea in an undesignated area, on another for unauthorised possession of two lemons.

Inna says although he has turned slim and grey, he remains mentally sharp. His inner strength has not deserted him but the threat of physical violence is ever present. Three months ago he was assaulted in his sleep with a knife. Although Khodorkovsky's lawyers are habitually strip-searched, the inmate who conducted the attack concealed the weapon in his belongings for two months. The prison administration did not press charges.

At night Khodorkovsky can hear the rumble of trains transporting oil from what were once his oilfields across the border and into China - another reminder of what used to be and why oil has become such a powerful tool for the Kremlin. Three weeks ago, Khodorkovsky marked his 43rd birthday in penal colony IK-10. Life expectancy there is 42. Its most famous inmate is now living on borrowed time.

Comments