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Russian Woman Jailed For Reposting Child-Abuse Video Sent To 'The Hole' 

  • Tom Balmforth

Kindergarten teacher Yevgenia Chudnovets was given a six-month prison sentence jailed for reposting a graphic child-abuse video in order to draw public attention to the crime.

MOSCOW -- First she was jailed for reposting a graphic child-abuse video in order to draw public attention to the crime. Then she claimed she was sent to a punishment cell -- known by her jailors as "the hole" -- for trying to warm up her feet by covering them with a blanket.

The startling misfortune of Yevgenia Chudnovets, a jailed kindergarten teacher from the Urals, has won her public support across the political divide -- from opposition leader Aleksei Navalny all the way to lawmakers from Vladimir Putin's United Russia ruling party.

It comes with Russia's penitentiary system in the spotlight after Ildar Dadin, a jailed opposition activist, last year made allegations of widespread torture in a prison facility in the northern Karelia region.

Chudnovets was convicted and sentenced to six months' imprisonment in November for disseminating a child-abuse video on social media. The three-second clip shows the abuse of a naked 10-year-old boy.

Chudnovets spotted the video online and reposted it in August, 2015, to a closed group on VKontakte where she and others discuss local news. The reposting of the video helped police catch a young man and woman from Kurgan Oblast who were jailed for three and six years, respectively, for the abuse.

Chudnovets, however, was subsequently charged herself with disseminating pornographic material and found guilty in November, despite her widely accepted explanation that she was trying to draw attention to the incident.

The harsh judgment prompted the country's human rights ombudsman, Anna Kuznetsova, to voice "alarm," protesting that: "This is a person who helped the police solve this crime."

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers Sergei Shargunov and Oksana Pushkina appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office to examine the case.

'Wild Accusation'

Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin ordered a probe into her sentencing, while state newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta wrote: "She wanted to draw the attention of her friends to a wild incident, and as a result was brought to account over a wild accusation." Chudnovets' case was even raised by a journalist at Putin's December press conference in which the president promised to look into the case.

Following the outcry, a Kurgan regional court in December reduced her jail sentence -- but only by one month.

After the holiday period, her case came back into the headlines when, on January 12, her partner Andrei Myasnikov wrote on Facebook that Chudnovets had been placed in a punishment cell for 15 days. He suggested the harsh treatment was revenge for the attention her case had attracted.

On January 14, the Urals news portal Znak.com interviewed Sergei Zykov, a Public Monitoring Commission activist, who said he had spoken directly to Chudnovets. She told him she had been given 10 days in the punishment cell for covering her feet with a blanket. When she expressed surprise she was given another five days, he said, adding that jailors call the cell "the hole."

Former lawmaker and opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, writing on Facebook, said the case shows the need for radical reform of the penitentiary service.

"Of course we really need reform," Gudkov said. "But we have already seen the 'militsiya [the former name of the Russian police force] reform', which led to absolutely nothing. So that this does not happen again we need to first of all destroy the [penitentiary] 'system' at its root. Then we can start creating something from scratch on entirely different principles."

Ultimately, Chudovnets reportedly only spent one day in the punishment cell, her lawyer told Znak.com on January 16, because she was transferred to a women's prison facility in Nizhny Tagil in Sverdlovsk Oblast.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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