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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rioting Prisoners Face Death Penalty

Nine inmates of a labor camp east of Moscow face a possible death sentence for their part in leading Wednesday's riot which left five inmates dead, Interior Ministry officials said Friday.

Yevgeny Ryabtsev, the press officer at the Russian Interior Ministry, said that the riot's nine ring leaders will be tried by the Vladimir regional procurator's office following an investigation that is expected to take at least a month. If convicted, the inmates face a minimum sentence of 15 years.

The riot, which occurred at Correctional Labor Camp No. 4 near the village of Vyazniki 260 kilometers east of Moscow, began in the early hours of Wednesday morning when inmates barricaded themselves into an area of the camp.

Five prisoners were killed later that day when Interior Ministry troops opened fire. Fourteen inmates and 20 troops were also injured in the clash.

The camp inmates, who are in their early 20s and are first-time offenders, were demanding better food and freedom of movement between the camp's zones, according to Ryabtsev.

The Interior Ministry has denied journalists access to the camp until the investigation is completed, and has even refused to give the colony's exact location.

The official inquiry is expected to take at least a month, due to the number of prisoners who have to be interviewed, according to Ryabtsev. More than 1, 100 of the 1, 500 prisoners in the camp participated in the riots, he said.

Vasily Zimin, a journalist at the newspaper, Vladimirskiye Vedomosti, in the regional capital of Vladimir, said by telephone Friday that he had been denied all access to the penal colony.

Corrective Labor Camp No. 4 is classified as "harsh regime", the second most severe of the four categories of penal colonies. The majority of the inmates at the camp are serving sentences for murder, rape and theft, Ryabtsev said.

Nicola Duckworth of Amnesty International's London office said by telephone Friday that conditions in Russia's correctional facilities are worsening due to the general economic decline in Russia. At the same time, the number of inmates in Russia's prisoners is increasing due to a rising crime rate.

But Duckworth said that it is hard to gauge specific conditions in the penal colonies, as information is "sporadic".

"The number of prison disturbances over the years is greater than has been reported", she said.

Helsinki Watch, a division of Human Rights Watch, issued a report on the conditions of Russia's prisons in 1991 that criticized among other things the "inadequacy of food" in penal colonies.

Inmates are fed a diet consisting mainly of porridge, soup and bread three times a day. Many prisoners rely on packages from friends and relatives to survive.