Sunbeds coming to Moscow's notorious Butyrka prison
Inmates at a notorious Moscow prison where a lawyer died last year in a case that sparked global concern are to receive sunbeds as part of a new drive to improve comfort, reports said on Wednesday.
The chief spokesman for Moscow prisons told ITAR-TASS that the improvements at Butyrka prison also included Internet telephony and access to better medical services and drugs.
The information was initially received with scepticism by the Russian media. "Is Butyrka turning into a sanatorium?" the mass-circulated Komsomolskaya Pravda daily asked in a headline.
The improvements were initiated after the death last year in Butyrka of Sergei Magnitsky -- attorney for the Yukos oil giant founded by the jailed former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky whose assets were seized by the state.
The death of Magnitsky, 37, in prison last year from untreated illnesses prompted a furious reaction from Western capitals and a new drive by President Dmitry Medvedev to institute prison reforms.
"Nearly a year after Magnitsky, the prison is doing all it can to prove that it has improved its conditions," said opposition website Kasparov.ru, run by former world chess champion turned Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov.
But critics scoffed at the proposed improvements.
"A sunbed is not a priority need. This looks like some kind of joke," Zoya Svetova, an expert on prisons who follows the Russian penal system for the New Times weekly said.
"The first thing they need to do is switch on the hot water."
Svetova noted that the ancient prison was actually hooked up to hot water, but prison officials simply refuse to turn it on.
"They explain that there are 20 inmates to a cell -- there used to be more -- and that if everyone started using the hot water, the place would get flooded and the place would collapse."
She noted that Butyrka also had awful medical conditions and that any changes along those lines would be made on a for-pay basis.
"And this is actually quite a normal practice the world over."
© 2010 AFP