For 37 days, nobody knew what had happened to Ildar Dadin. On December 7, 2015, Dadin, a Russian opposition activist, had been sentenced to nearly three years in a prison colony for his involvement in a protest against the Russian government. But one year later, his whereabouts within the Russian prison system were unknown, and despite pleas from protesters and family members, officials refused to disclose his location. Finally, at the beginning of January, officials from Russia’s State Penitentiary Service (FSIN) told Dadin’s wife, Anastasia Zotova, that her husband was being held in the Altai Republic of Russia.
Now, less than a month later, Dadin has filed a request to the FSIN through Zotova, asking to be moved closer to his home in Moscow. “Are there really no colonies closer to Moscow?” Russian state wire service TASS quoted Zotova as saying on January 26.
“Moving Dadin to a colony in the Altai Republic constitutes a violation of his right to keep connections with his wife, as guaranteed by the [European] Convention on Human Rights,” Dadin's lawyer, Nikokai Zboroshenko, announced.
Dadin’s supporters had celebrated the revelation of his whereabouts in posts on social media, with one woman describing it as the best news of 2017. This sentiment was echoed in a #FreeDadin Facebook group, which boasts over 2,000 members. Despite recent confirmation of Dadin’s whereabouts, the group continues to post encouragement for protesters, including pictures of women in St. Petersburg bearing posters featuring pictures of Dadin himself protesting. The support for Dadin has continued across the country, with nearly 40 people having been detained in Moscow on January 14 after staging a silent protest in support of the activist.
Dadin was no stranger to run-ins with the Russian government. Prior to his imprisonment, Dadin, a Moscow native, was a prominent critic of the Putin regime, including of its war in Ukraine and the meddling and lack of transparency that plagues its elections. Before his December arrest, he was fined more than four times for political offenses, and was even detained in May 2012 for his involvement in a peaceful protest against the government’s crackdown on protesters earlier in the month shortly before Putin took office for his third term.
When he was ultimately imprisoned in 2015, Dadin became the first—and remains the only—person to be sentenced under Article 212.1, which prohibits the “repeated violation of the order of organizing or holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches or picketing,” a law that first came into effect in the summer of 2014.
Dadin’s imprisonment has been the subject of international scrutiny, with media outlets and human rights organizations detailing the various abuses he has endured. This uproar was also fueled by a letter he penned his wife on October 31, 2016. The message, smuggled out of prison through his lawyer, publicized the miserable conditions Dadin faced in the Karelian penal colonies N7, ranging from rape threats to humiliation by correction officers—information that Dadin’s wife quickly released to the public.
Russia’s treatment of Dadin quickly produced a wave of reactions among political activists in Russia. Change.org is currently collecting signatures in an attempt to have all charges against him dropped, a petition that was launched in November 2016. After Dadin’s wife released the letter he wrote from prison detailing the abuses he faced, protesters arrived at the ministry of justice demanding that he be treated lawfully in prison. One woman held a banner that read, “They hang Dadin by his handcuffs and 12 men beat him for taking to the streets with a protest banner. Torture is banned under Article 21 of the Russian constitution.” However, the government has not responded to the outcry in any meaningful way, instead claiming that Dadin’s rights have never been violated. Still, though Dadin may have been found within the Russian prison system, his future remains unclear.