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Alexei Navalny: ‘Psychological torture and self-isolation’ inside Putin critic’s Russian prison | World News

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Barring the golden domes of its church, Correctional Facility No 2 (IK-2) in the town of Pokrov, 60 miles east of Moscow, is utterly unprepossessing. 

Corrugated iron fencing topped with barbed wire and punctuated by watchtowers surround a cluster of buildings in various shades of grey.

Typical of Russia‘s penal colonies and home for the foreseeable to the country’s most famous political prisoner.

Alexei Navalny seen arriving at Moscow courthouse
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Alexei Navalny is now in quarantine at the facility

“No one is going to beat or torture Navalny but the administration will try to isolate him from the other prisoners and minimise all contacts,” says Vladimir Pereverzin, a former manager at oil firm Yukos, who served just over seven years in Russia’s penal colony system, some of it in the Vladimir region.

“The living conditions were awful,” he says. “The windows were in a terrible state, snow would come into the rooms. It was a while ago but even if they’ve renovated doesn’t mean it’ll be easier to live there.”

Alexei Navalny was transferred out of Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina jail on Thursday and his team had raised the alarm, worried that his transfer to an unknown corner of Russia’s penal colony system might take several weeks with no word on his whereabouts.

But on Sunday, a public monitoring commission said he had arrived at IK-2 and was in quarantine.

“They make it as hard as possible in the quarantine cell,” says Konstantin Kotov, who spent nearly two years in IK-2.

“They’ll always threaten to send you back there if you misbehave. You’re prohibited from talking to each other and there are special guards who monitor that.

“There are also no letters, no communications at all with the outside world.”

Correctional Facility No 2 (IK-2) in the town of Pokrov
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IK-2 houses just under 800 inmates in 12 different units

Kotov is an opposition activist who was jailed for repeated participation in unauthorised protests around the 2019 Moscow city elections.

He describes a routine of endless rules, relentless scrutiny and psychological torture. Failure to address the guards in the correct way or to make the bed properly could mean time in self-isolation.

Inmates would have just five or six minutes to eat. Guards would shout and make them run the short journey from their barracks to the canteen, bent double in an attempt to humiliate them.

But it was the social isolation which affected him most.

“The other prisoners were not allowed to speak to me, just to make my life more difficult,” he recalls. “First I would ask them questions and they never answered, I thought maybe they were just in a bad mood. But then one of the guards hinted that they had a special request not to speak to me.

“I think Navalny will get the same treatment.”

Correctional Facility No 2 (IK-2) in the town of Pokrov
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One former inmate describes ‘a routine of endless rules, relentless scrutiny and psychological torture’

IK-2 houses just under 800 inmates in 12 different units – 10 with normal conditions, one with eased conditions, and one with strict conditions.

The head of Russia’s Federal Prisons’ Service, Alexander Kalashnikov, told Interfax that Navalny would be safe in jail.

“He will be held in absolutely normal conditions. His routine, supervision, and control will be guaranteed 100%,” Mr Kalashnikov said.

According to Kotov, relatives are allowed to visit once every two months for up to four hours.

There is also the possibility of an extended three-day visit where a prisoner stays with family members in a special room with a kitchen – but Kotov never saw that request granted.

Vladimir Putin wished his countrymen a brighter new year despite the pandemic hardships. (Pic: AP)
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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin

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“To find how a society lives you have to see how their prisons operate,” Vladimir Pereverzin said by phone from Berlin, where he now lives in exile.

“Russia is like a big colony and Putin is the head of the prison.

“There are laws, there is a constitution, there is criminal law, but nobody follows it. The colony is the same.”

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Myanmar junta releases over 23,000 prisoners but fate of detained protesters unknown | World News

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Myanmar’s junta has claimed to have pardoned and released more than 23,000 prisoners – but it is not known if the figure includes pro-democracy activists detained in the wake of February’s coup.

The release was announced to mark the new year holiday.

State broadcaster MRTV said Myanmar‘s military leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing pardoned the 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported.

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He also reduced sentences for others.

Early prisoner releases are customary during major holidays, but this is the second time the ruling junta has done so since it ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering daily protests, arrests and deaths by security forces.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests, government forces have killed at least 726 protesters and bystanders since the takeover.

The group says 2,728 people, including Ms Suu Kyi, are in detention.

Following the release of more than 23,000 convicts to mark Union Day on 12 February, there were reports on social media that some were recruited by the authorities to carry out violence at night in residential areas to spread panic.

Heavy clashes erupted during demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday 28 March
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Heavy clashes erupted during demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday 28 March

Some areas responded by setting up their own neighbourhood watch groups.

The military said it staged the coup because a November election won by Ms Suu Kyi’s party was rigged – an assertion dismissed by the election commission.

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COVID-19: Pandemic has now killed three million across the world – as countries see surge in cases | World News

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The global death toll from coronavirus has topped three million people amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.

The number of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US, is about equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; or metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal.

It is bigger than Chicago (2.7 million) and equivalent to Philadelphia and Dallas combined.

However, the true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.

Worldwide, COVID-19 deaths are on the rise again, running at around 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing too, eclipsing 700,000 a day.

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the World Health Organisation’s leaders on COVID-19.

In Brazil, where deaths are running at about 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a “raging inferno” by one WHO official.

A more contagious variant of the virus has been rampaging across the country.

Meanwhile, problems that India had overcome last year are coming back to haunt health officials.

Recent religious event in India could be behind the surge in cases, experts suggest
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Recent religious event in India could be behind the surge in cases, experts suggest

Only 178 ventilators were free on Wednesday afternoon in New Delhi, a city of 29 million, where 13,000 new infections were reported the previous day.

The challenges facing India reverberate beyond its borders since the country is the biggest supplier of shots to Covax, the UN-sponsored program to distribute vaccines to poorer parts of the world.

Last month, India said it would suspend vaccine exports until the virus’s spread inside the country slows.

The WHO recently described the supply situation as precarious.

Up to 60 countries might not receive any more jabs until June, by one estimate.

To date, Covax has delivered about 40 million doses to more than 100 countries, enough to cover barely 0.25% of the world’s population.

Globally, about 87% of the 700 million doses dispensed have been given out in rich countries.

While one in four people in wealthy nations have received a vaccine, in poor countries the figure is one in more than 500.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX wins $2.9bn NASA contract to send humans to the moon | Science & Tech News

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Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX has won a $2.9bn (£2.1bn) NASA contract to build a spacecraft to put humans on the moon.

The tech billionaire’s firm was chosen ahead of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defence contractor Dynetics Inc.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said at a video conference: “We should accomplish the next landing as soon as possible. This is an incredible time to be involved in human exploration, for all humanity.”

SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk
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SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk wants to take humans to Mars

SpaceX will need to complete a test flight “to fully check out all systems with a landing on the lunar surface prior to our formal demonstration mission”, NASA official Lisa Watson-Morgan told reporters.

Mr Musk is one of the world’s richest people thanks to his 22% stake in electric car maker Tesla, now the world’s most valuable vehicle manufacturer.

His publicly stated aim is to put humans on Mars – but so far, SpaceX has mainly been used to launch satellites for his Starlink internet venture, and other satellites and space cargo.

The SpaceX programme has suffered considerable teething problems, with another failed landing for its prototype Starship spacecraft last month.

The previous three exploded at touchdown or shortly afterwards.

Those setbacks do not appear to have affected investors’ confidence in his schemes, however, as SpaceX said on Wednesday it had raised about $1.16bn (£838m) in equity financing.

SpaceX lost another Starship, here seen launching in thick fog, in a botched landing on Tuesday
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SpaceX lost another Starship, here seen launching in thick fog, in a botched landing

NASA’s plan is get back to the moon and using that as a platform to send astronauts to Mars and it is looking to team up with private companies that share its vision for space exploration.

In December, NASA announced 18 astronauts who could be involved in plans to get back to the moon by 2024.

Jeff Bezos. Pic: AP
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NASA’s decision is a setback for Jeff Bezos. Pic: AP

It’s a setback for Mr Bezos, a lifelong space enthusiast and one of the world’s richest people, who is more focused on his space venture after deciding to step down as Amazon CEO.

The NASA deal was seen as a way for Blue Origin to establish itself as a desired partner for NASA, and also putting the venture on the road to turning a profit.

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