Moscow prison opens first prayer room for Muslims

January 24, 2011

butyrkaA prison where Soviet-era writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was jailed and a third of inmates are Muslims from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, has become the first in Moscow to open a Muslim prayer room.

Nineteenth century Butyrka prison in central Moscow, which also held Adolf Hitler’s nephew Heinrich among other high-profile prisoners, held its first prayers on Friday, in a hall near a Christian church that has operated since 1989.

(Photo: Butyrka prison, Moscow, 29 May 2010/Stanislav Kozlovskiy)

“Religion is the best way for one to improve and heal, and we wanted Muslims to also benefit from this,” Kamil Mannatov from the Russian Council of Muftis told Reuters on Monday.

Mannatov, who heads the Muftis’ department on military and prisoner affairs, said the Council signed an agreement with Russia’s Federal Prison Service in May 2010 to build Muslim prayer halls across the country.

Tensions between ethnic Russians and the country’s 20 million Muslims, a seventh of the population, flared dramatically last month in a string of large-scale ethnic clashes, shocking politicians and ordinary Russians.

Russia’s crowded, poorly managed prison system, where almost half of the inmates are ill, many infected with HIV or tuberculosis, has come under increased scrutiny since the 2009 death of jailed lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

In a rare admission, the Federal Prison Service said it was partly responsible for Magnitsky’s death, who spent much of his last months in Butyrka, where he was denied medical services.

In what analysts say are attempts to save face, sunbeds have been installed at Butyrka and earlier this month an Internet shop opened for all Moscow prisons, where inmates could order food as well as the Bible and the Koran.

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