Staunton, Aug. 28 – When Hitler invaded the USSR, Soviet jailors killed many prisoners they weren’t able to evacuate to deeper parts of the country. Now, according to rumors spread by older prisoners, Moscow might do the same thing to prison inmates in the event that Ukrainian forces passed into Russian territory.
Such a plan, older prisoners assert, is contained in a secret circular distributed among prison officials. And they note that such an action would hit Muslim convicts disproportionately hard given that since 2018, Moscow has confined Muslims convicted of extremist crimes in prisons lest they spread their ideas in the more open camps.
This is a rumor and cannot be confirmed, although it seems to reflect both the history of Soviet and Russian prisons and the pattern of confinement of Muslims versus non-Muslims. To the extent it is believed, it will spark tensions between Muslims and non-Russians both in prison and in society at large (utrokavkaz.info/2022/08/28/musulmane-v-tyurmah-pod-pritselom/).
The article in which this rumor is contained is by Salman Sever, whose name suggests he is an ethnic Russian convert to Islam and thus a member of a group that is historically more radical than Muslims whose faith is part of their national traditions. And the story appears on a Muslim portal directed at Muslims in the North Caucasus.
The author says that about a decade ago, he created a special project, Zindanistan, a word that can best be translated as “a country of prisons” or a prison-country. His goal was to provide assistance to Muslim prisoners to get religiously appropriate food, literature and positive treatment from their jailors. To do this, he worked with prison brotherhoods.
The Russian authorities cracked down hard. On August 21, 2013, the Federal Penal Service raided the organizers and expelled many of them from the country. It is clear, Salman Sever says, that the authorities were frightened about the possibility that the project would help create a third force in Russian prisons beyond the two they had long controlled.
Those two, he points out, were the jailors and the ordinary criminals who ran things for the jailors. The Zindanistan movement threatened to create a third “green” element that would consolidate Muslim prisoners much in the same way that the Nation of Islam has Blacks in American prisons.
Concern about this has been greater in prisons than in prison camps because for the last four years, Moscow has sent Muslims convicted of extremism not to camps where they could interact with others and even spread Islam but to prisons where they form a disproportionate share of the inmates.
That has already led to a dramatic increase in tensions in Russian prisons. The rumor that Ukrainian advances might lead to a situation in which Russian jailors would feel free or even be compelled to execute prisoners and Muslim ones in particular will only elevate such tensions further.