Locked up in lockdown

Rustam Urinboyed doing fieldwork in a Russian prison.

Since COVID-19 spread to Russia, national authorities have cut off all access to prisons. Based on his recent research, Rustamjon Urinboyev speculates how the everyday lives of transnational Muslim prisoners in Russia are likely to have changed in lockdown.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Russia, all correctional facilities closed to outsiders to protect the vulnerable prison population. The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service offers limited information about the situation inside the prisons. Very few people know about the current conditions inside Russian prisons and correctional colonies.

Associate Professor Rustam Urinboyev recently conducted ethnographic fieldwork involving 29 interviews with Uzbek nationals who served sentences in Russian penal institutions. In a blog post on the University of Helsinki’s “Gulag Echoes” project website, he speculates that COVID-19 restrictions have had palpable effect on the daily lives of Muslim prison population.

It is unlikely that they are allowed to gather for the daily group prayer, a practice that strengthens solidarity and notions of support among Muslim minority prisoners. The strain is certainly amplified by a lack of Halal food, leaving Muslim prisoners with the option to either give up their religious diet or sustain on bread for the duration of the lockdown.

Urinboyev also notes that a ceased inflow of money, drugs, and electronics during the pandemic times puts prisoners in a particularly precarious situation. “The quality of prisoners’ life in Russian penal institutions highly depends on the maintenance of daily communication and exchange with the street/outside world.”


Read the analysis in its entirety at helsinki.fi.

Visit Rustam Urinboyev’s personal page for more information about his research.



Photo of Rustam
Rustamjon Urinboyev is an Associate Professor and senior research fellow at the Department of Sociology of Law. He received his PhD in sociology of law for a thesis entitled: “Living Law and Political Stability in Post-Soviet Central Asia” (2013), which explored the interconnections between informal economy, community-based traditional governance institutions and political stability.