Campaigners sound alarm over imprisoned miner

[Translation of an article published on on 15 March.]

In a Yakutia prison camp, the imprisoned trade union leader Valentin Urusov was beaten up, to make him cancel a meeting with journalists.

Valentin Urusov, the convicted trade union activist serving a six-year sentence in no. 3 prison camp at Verkhniy Bestyakh, has been put under pressure because of a planned meeting with journalists from NTV television company.

Maksim Mestnikov, the head of the Sotsprof trade union in Yakutia, told the Institute of Collective Action (IKD) information agency that the NTV journalists were preparing a programme about trade union activists who faced harassment due to their campaigning activity. The meeting with Urusov had been planned as part of the project.

In the spring and summer of 2008, Urusov, having set up a trade union at the Aikhalo-Udachninsky ore enrichment combine, which is part of the [diamond mining] giant Alrosa, organised a series of protests. In September of that year he was arrested, allegedly for possession of drugs, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. A broad campaign began in support of Urusov, and demonstrations expressing support for him were held across Russia and in other countries.

The director of corrective prison camp no. 3, Yevgeny Koada, had previously agreed that trade union representatives would meet with Valentin once every three months during his sentence, in the first place to check up on the state of his health, Mestnikov said. “The prison authorities always came to an agreement with us. The last time we saw him was in December last year.”

Mestnikov explained that a request had been made for Urusov to meet the NTV journalists in a letter to Aleksandr Reimer, head of the Federal Service for Corrective Punishments of Russia (FSIN). By way of an answer, a letter arrived, signed by Valentin Urusov, in which he refused the request for a meeting.

In Mestnikov’s view, the letter was signed under compulsion. “The prison authorities in Yakutia make widespread use of trusties and narks. The trusties were given the task of beating up Urusov so that he would sign the letter refusing the request to meet the TV journalists”, Mestnikov stated.

The next meeting between Urusov and his trade union colleagues was due to take place on Monday 21 March, and Mestnikov said that the it might be postponed on one pretext or another, so that the visitors would not see the physical evidence of the pressure put on Urusov. [Up to today, 23 March, no further report has been published by IKD. As soon as one appears, it will be posted here. Translator.]

It is easy to guess why the prison authorities might be concerned about Urusov meeting journalists. Either the management of the prison camp, or the FSIN, may be worried that the truth about prisoners’ conditions will get too much public attention. It is also entirely possible that the pressure to prevent a meeting between Urusov and journalists has come from his former employers at Alrosa. It is worth recalling that Valentin Urusov has several times said that “the company” is keeping an eye on him, even during imprisonment, and that “it is by no means certain that they will allow him to be freed alive”.

The renewed interest in Urusov’s case from journalists has coincided with a new bout of campaigning in his defence. In February 2011 in Moscow demonstrations were held demanding his release, to coincide with the submission of a supervisory review by his lawyers.

Note. International supporters of Valentin Urusov are asked to follow the example of the National Union of Mineworkers in the UK, and many others, who have written to President Dmitry Medvedev at the Kremlin, demanding that the case be reviewed and Valentin Urusov be released.

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