MOSCOW, June 2 (Reuters) – Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most famous opposition leader, on Friday shared letters showing how he has poked fun at prison authorities for several months with a host of bizarre requests for a kimono, a balalaika, a beetle and even to keep a kangaroo.
The requests were turned down by the maximum security IK-6 penal colony at Melekhovo, about 250 km (115 miles) east of Moscow, according to the Russian documents he posted online.
“When you are in a punishment cell and don’t have much entertainment, you can always amuse yourself by corresponding with the prison administration,” Navalny said.
Navalny is serving combined sentences of 11-1/2 years for fraud and contempt of court on charges that he says were trumped up to silence him.
The letters showed that Navalny asked for an eclectic range of items, including, variously, a bottle of moonshine, a balalaika, a staff, two pouches of cheap tobacco, a kimono and a black belt.
The correspondence also reveals the conditions of the Russian prison system: Navalny asked for a megaphone to be given to a mentally ill convict in a cell opposite so that “he could shout even louder”, and for prison authorities to award the 10th dan in Karate to a prisoner who apparently killed a man with his bare hands.
Both requests were refused. The prison declined comment.
The prison’s replies, written in the stilted administrative Russian of officialdom, complete with serial numbers, acronyms and references to various laws and rules, give a satiric insight into the sometimes absurd world of Russian bureaucracy, a theme writer Nikolai Gogol satirised in the 19th Century.
“The question of awarding eastern martial arts qualifications is not handled by the administration,” the prison wrote back on April 28.
In response to Navalny’s request for a permit to keep a kangaroo, the prison wrote: “The animal identified in your request relates to the double crested-marsupial… Your request is left without satisfaction.”
He asked for a massage chair to be given to an unidentified squad leader, suggesting it might reduce stress. The prison wrote coldly that massage chairs were not provided.
Navalny inquired about the names of the guard dogs.
The prison said it could not give him such information. Navalny said he was told by guards that knowledge of the names of the dogs could allow him to befriend the creatures and then try to escape.
His inquiry about whether he needed a permit to keep a beetle was met with a refusal.
“The insect identified by you in your request belongs to the animal kingdom,” the prison said in a May 3 letter.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Philippa Fletcher
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