News of the Day: 26 February 2021

The Guardian: The Kremlin is taking aim at Alexei Navalny’s reputation, as the opposition leader was sent to a prison colony in Russia, a journey into a “grey zone” where supporters say he will need maximum international support to ensure his safety. For years Navalny was a phantom in Russian state media, his name studiously absent from the lips of top officials and news anchors. A favourite game among the opposition was to write his name on a snowbank – municipal workers would often arrive shortly after to sweep it away. But now he has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison on embezzlement charges, the Kremlin and its supporters have highlighted his role in nationalist politics in the 2000s and used the courts to portray him as unpatriotic. In the month since his arrest, he has been convicted of slandering a second world war veteran, a crime that did not add any time to his sentence but made for an unsavoury showpiece on primetime news shows. And then, in what some Amnesty International employees have described as a capitulation to a “coordinated campaign”, the human rights organisation stopped describing him as a “prisoner of conscience”, a decision that allies said would relieve pressure on Russia to release him immediately.

RFE/RL: Russia’s prison authority has confirmed that opposition political leader Aleksei Navalny has been moved from the Moscow detention center where had been held since mid-January to another prison. Aleksandr Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), did not specify on February 26 where the Kremlin critic was being taken, nor was it clear whether Navalny had arrived at the facility or if he was still on his way there to begin serving a 2 1/2 year sentence. “He has been transferred to where he is supposed to be under the court ruling,” Kalashnikov told reporters.

RFE/RL: Russian opposition political leader Aleksei Navalny has been moved from the Moscow detention center where he has been held since mid-January and is believed to be en route to a prison where he will begin serving a 2 1/2 year sentence. Navalny’s lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, made the announcement on February 25 without providing any further details. The Russian authorities typically do not provide information about the transfer of prisoners until after they reach their destination, which could be anywhere in the country.

The Moscow Times: Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin halted a vote Friday on whether to restore a statue of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky outside the domestic intelligence headquarters in the Russian capital.  The vote, which kicked off Thursday and was set to last a week, offered Muscovites a choice between a statue of Dzerzhinsky, who is seen as a symbol of the KGB’s control over society in the Soviet Union, and Alexander Nevsky, a 13th century prince and Orthodox saint.  But with nearly 320,000 ballots cast two days later, with Nevsky leading Dzerzhinsky by 55% to 45%, Sobyanin decided to scrap the vote — and the new statue — altogether.  Writing on his official blog, the Moscow mayor said that the vote was “increasingly turning into a confrontation between people holding different views.”

Human Rights in Ukraine: 63-year-old Oleh Prykhodko gave his final address to the court in Russia which is due to hand down a verdict on 3 March.  The defence demonstrated over and over again that the charges against Prykhodko were absurd and the evidence falsified. This, however, is the court which has been issuing huge sentences against Ukrainian political prisoners since the trial of Oleg Sentsov, and the chances for justice here do not seem high. According to his lawyer, Nazim Sheikhmambet, Prykhodko’s final address was emotional, but to the point.  He said that he is “an ordinary Christian, and blacksmith, who opposed “Crimea being joined to Russia” and openly said so. He expressed his certainty that this opposition was the reason for the FSB’s “attention”.   The defence also addressed the court, pointing out the failings in the prosecution’s evidence and all the many discrepancies in the case. Prykhodko has been held in the appalling conditions first of the SIZO [remand prison] in Simferopol, then in a Rostov SIZO since October 2019.  Such conditions are difficult even for a young man, and are positively dangerous for a 63-year-old in poor health.  The only good thing is that the prison administration have finally begun giving Prykhodko the medication that his wife and adult daughter obtain for him.

The Moscow Times: A pair of notorious Russian pranksters duped top Amnesty International directors into saying their widely panned move to revoke jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s “prisoner of conscience” status caused damage. Amnesty was hit with widespread backlash for the decision Wednesday, with critics saying the group had caved in to a “targeted campaign” to discredit Navalny by figures linked to pro-Kremlin media. The organization cited Navalny’s past nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric in its decision to remove the label but said it would continue to push for his release. In the call, three Amnesty officials discuss the fallout from the day’s events with the pranksters known as Vovan and Lexus, who pose as top Navalny aide Leonid Volkov.

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