Torture of Isolation-Russian Prison Housing WSJ Evan Gershkovich

Lee Heidhues 5.3.2023

The false arrest and imprisonment of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich going on two months is an international outrage.

The worst part of this inhumane act is the fact a young journalist. Doing his job. Whose parents are Russian emigres. Who speaks fluent Russian. Is being held in the most barbaric of conditions.

The incarceration and isolation of Evan Gershkovich is another crime against humanity perpetrated by Vladimir Putin.

This is a cruel fact which no media report will never accurately convey.

Excerpted from Moscow Times 5.3.2023

“ There is complete isolation: no meetings, no news from the outside world,” said former inmate and chemical weapons program whistleblower Vil Mirzayanov, who was arrested on treason charges in 1992. 

“Lefortovo is famous for putting maximum psychological pressure [on inmates]”

While Mirzayanov said Gershkovich was unlikely to suffer any physical violence from guards, he would have to find ways of dealing with the isolation and squalid conditions. 

“I wish him strength,” he said. 

Since his arrest on charges of espionage just over a month ago, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been held in Russia’s most notorious prison, Lefortovo, located in a leafy residential district of Moscow.  

Its impenetrable walls once muffled the cries of Soviet-era political prisoners tortured and executed by security officers during Stalin’s purges. 

Evan Gershkovich cycling with a friend during happier times in Russia.

While bullets no longer fly in Lefortovo’s holding cells, the prison’s central role in Russia’s system of political repression has remained unchanged. 

“Lefortovo is famous for putting maximum psychological pressure [on inmates],” said Igor Rudnikov, a journalist and ex-local official who spent 10 months in Lefortovo in 2017 and 2018. 

“The goal is simple: to break the detainee.”

Like other prisoners, Gershkovich, a former journalist for The Moscow Times, is likely experiencing extreme isolation in Lefortovo. According to former inmates and lawyers, he will have had to grow accustomed to unpartitioned toilets, lights that never turned off, visits by prison guards every four minutes and rare glimpses of the sky. 

Used to hold high-profile prisoners, or those accused of the most serious charges, Lefortovo is filled with ex-spies, politicians, murderers and some of those accused under Russia’s widespread crackdown on wartime dissent. 

The prison is de-facto controlled by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), rather than the Federal Penitentiary Service that is in charge of the country’s correctional system. 

Despite its reputation, guards at the modern-day Lefortovo no longer subject inmates to overt physical violence or verbal humiliation. 

WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich being arrested in Russia – 3.20.2023

In fact, former inmates recalled staff being polite and never failing to wish prisoners a good morning. 

“Investigators there are extremely polite. Everything in Lefortovo is very civilized,” said Mirzayanov.

Extreme isolation was mentioned by all the former Lefortovo detainees who spoke to The Moscow Times about their time at the facility. 

For inmates, their isolation begins immediately upon arrival at Lefortovo when they are placed in a single cell for a two-week quarantine. 

“They sit alone in an information blockade for two weeks. There is a TV in the cell but it usually doesn’t work — I think that is done on purpose,” lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who has worked with dozens of people imprisoned at Lefortovo, told The Moscow Times.

Top photo – Wall Street Journalist Evan Gershkovich in Russian courtroom