Sunday, February 12, 2023

Key Division among Prisoners in Russia Today Not between Political and Ordinary but between Those who Get Public Attention and Those who Don’t, Solidarity Zone Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 10 – In Soviet times, the classification of prisoners as political or ordinary played a key role in how they were treated by their jailors because both the prison hierarchy and ordinary prisoners treated political prisoners in ways that set them apart from the rest of the population behind bars.

            But activists for the Solidarity Zone organization, which helps people to maintain what contacts prisoners have with family, friends, and political allies outside, argue that they see no sense in assuming that the division between political and ordinary prisoners will play a major role in how inmates are treated (

            Instead, the activists say, the key division is between those prisoners whose names are kept alive in the public sphere, usually but not always political ones, are treated better than those who are not because the prison system doesn’t want to create problems for itself by mistreating those whose fate will quickly be known to a broader audiencae.

            That doesn’t mean that political prisoners won’t be mistreated – they often are, the activists concede -- but it does mean, they insist, that such inmates won’t be treated as badly or be as likely to be allowed to die or killed as those who do not have that kind of contact and attention in the outside world.

            The idea that this is not the case, they continue, is “certainly the most widespread myth spread not only among those who are arrested but also among their lawyers.” Such a myth has the effect of limiting the efforts of those who seek to keep prisoners in the public eye and thus of providing what protection media coverage can for inmates.

            The Solidarity Zone activists say ordinary Russians and others can help in this process by turning to one or more of the three services that help get mail to prisoners of all kinds (, and


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