Week-ending 26 February 2021
This week a Moscow court upheld Aleksei Navalny’s conviction in the Yves Rocher embezzlement case on appeal but reduced the sentence by 1.5 months to 2.5 years, despite the order by the European Court of Human Rights to free Navalny. The same day Navalny was convicted of defaming a World War II veteran and fined 850,000 roubles ($11,500). He was later removed from the pretrial detention centre where he has been held en route to the penal colony where he will serve his sentence (its location not publicly known). Amnesty International announced it no longer considered Navalny a prisoner of conscience because of previous statements he has made that the organisation considers hate speech. The EU said it would impose fresh sanctions on Russia for imprisoning Navalny.
RFE/RL, 20 February 2021: Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court has upheld opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s prison sentence relating to his embezzlement conviction, but reduced the sentence by 1 1/2 months. Navalny had appealed a sentence handed down earlier this month in relation to a previous and controversial embezzlement conviction.
The Guardian, 20 February 2021: A Moscow court has rejected an appeal from Alexei Navalny that virtually guarantees the Russian opposition figure will be sent to a prison camp for two and a half years. In a widely expected ruling, the judge upheld a decision to imprison Navalny by reversing a parole handed down in 2014 for embezzlement in a case Navalny said was politically motivated. From a glass-enclosed holding cell, Navalny delivered an impassioned appeal to a wider base of Russians who are unhappy with life under Vladimir Putin’s leadership.
The Guardian, 2 February 2021: The opposition leader Alexei Navalny has appealed to Russians after a Moscow court on Saturday rejected his appeal against his prison sentence, despite the European court of human rights’ order to free the Kremlin’s most prominent foe. The judge slightly reduced his sentence to just over two and a half years in prison, ruling that the month and a half Navalny spent under house arrest in early 2015 would be deducted from his sentence.
The Moscow Times, 20 February 2021: A Moscow court on Saturday upheld a ruling to jail the Kremlin’s most prominent opponent Alexei Navalny, sealing his first lengthy prison sentence after a decade of legal battles with Russian authorities. Another court also convicted Navalny on defamation charges — part of a slew of cases he has faced since returning to Russia from Germany last month after a poison attack he blames on the Kremlin. In the first hearing on Saturday, Judge Dmitry Balashov dismissed Navalny’s appeal of a decision to imprison him for violating the terms of a suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he says were politically motivated. Navalny, 44, was ordered on Feb. 2 to serve two years and eight months in a penal colony for breaching his parole terms while he was in Germany recovering from the nerve agent. […] Hours later another judge convicted Navalny of defamation for calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” for appearing in a pro-Kremlin video. Judge Vera Akimova ordered him to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles ($11,500). The 94-year-old veteran appeared in a video that Navalny derided for promoting constitutional reforms, passed last year, that could allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. The defamation was widely covered on state television and Navalny accused Russian authorities of using the veteran as a “puppet” to try to discredit him. […] Supporters of the outspoken opposition figure say the cases are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.
The Moscow Times, 21 February 2021: European Union foreign ministers are expected to give the go-ahead Monday to sanctions on Russia over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protests. The top diplomats from the 27-nation bloc meet in Brussels for talks that will also include a wide-ranging videoconference with new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The move to target the Kremlin comes two weeks after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was caught in a diplomatic ambush in Moscow that enraged member states.
RFE/RL, 22 February 2021: EU foreign ministers on February 22 agreed to fresh sanctions against “specific persons” over Russia’s jailing of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and a crackdown on his allies, according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by saying it was “disappointed” at the bloc’s move and accusing the EU Foreign Affairs Council of invoking a “far-fetched pretext” to prepare “new unlawful restrictions on Russian citizens.” Moscow also rejected as “categorically unacceptable” outside demands for the release of a Russian national convicted by a Russian court, as Navalny has been in processes that he and Western governments have said are politically motivated.
RFE/RL, 23 February 2021: Amnesty International has confirmed the withdrawal of its recent designation of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny as a “prisoner of conscience” over his alleged advocacy of violence and discrimination and comments that included hate speech, but reiterated its determination to keep fighting for his release. “Amnesty International took an internal decision to stop referring to Aleksei Navalny as a prisoner of conscience in relation to comments he made in the past,” Denis Krivosheev, deputy director of Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia office, confirmed to RFE/RL in an e-mailed response.
RFE/RL, 25 February2021: 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. On February 2, a Moscow court changed a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence that was handed down to Navalny in 2014 to a custodial sentence after ruling that the 44-year-old anti-corruption crusader had violated the terms of the earlier court decision. After deducting time already served in custody, the court ruled Navalny must spend 2 1/2 years in prison.
Amnesty International, 25 February 2021: Amnesty International defines a prisoner of conscience (POC) as a person who has been deprived of their liberty solely because of their conscientiously held beliefs, or for discriminatory reasons relating to their ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or other identity, who has not used violence or advocated violence or hatred. Claims that Amnesty’s decision on Aleksei Navalny was a response to external pressure are untrue and ignore our longstanding and detailed internal policy. Amnesty International opposed Aleksei Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment in Moscow in January 2021, which took place in the context of a widespread and brutal crackdown on peaceful activists and government opposition by the Russian authorities. Tens of thousands were arrested in protests against the government of President Vladimir Putin, and we issued repeated calls for protesters’ rights to be respected, as well as for an independent investigation into the alleged poisoning of Aleksei Navalny.
RFE/RL, 26 February 2021: 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, 26 February 2021: 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, 22 February 2021: Russian lawmakers are seeking to criminalize insulting World War II veterans, the state-run TASS news agency reported Monday. Amendments to a bill on the protection of historical memory will be included in its second reading in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma. They come on the heels of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s conviction on defamation charges for calling a veteran a “traitor.” “We propose to classify public dissemination of deliberately false information about veterans of the Great Patriotic War as one of the forms of rehabilitation of Nazism,” said Irina Yarovaya, the Duma’s vice speaker and one of the authors of the amendments. “No one will ever again be able to mock our veterans with impunity and defile the memory of the defenders of the fatherland,” she added.
RFE/RL, 22 February 2021: Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s regional office in the Siberian city of Irkutsk has published an audio recording of a disciplinary conversation between the dean of the biotechnology department of Irkutsk State Agricultural University and student activist Yevgenia Ivanchenko. Ivanchenko had posted photographs on social media showing herself participating in protests last month over the jailing of Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to Russia from Germany on January 17. It was unclear when the conversation with the dean, Olga Ilina, took place. In the recording, posted on February 18, a voice identified as belonging to Ilina seems to justify the use of chemical weapons against Navalny, who she asserts is “destabilizing” Russia. “Chemical weapons are a government containment policy,” Ilina says. “You know what kind of world we have — it has been unipolar, bipolar, tripolar. We must protect ourselves as a state. We will develop any type of weaponry in order to resist. And people like Navalny are against. They are in favor of destabilizing the situation in Russia.”
RFE/RL, 23 February 2021: New York’s professional ice hockey team says star forward Artemi Panarin has been targeted for his support of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny in what the team called a “fabricated story” in a Russian tabloid alleging he assaulted a woman almost a decade ago. The New York Rangers announced on February 22 that Panarin, 29, one of several Russians playing in the National Hockey League (NHL), is taking a leave of absence because of the report.
The Moscow Times, 25 February 2021: 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. “We are conscious that what happened has done a lot of damage,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s vice president of Europe and Central Asia, says on the 15-minute Zoom call published to Vovan and Lexus’ YouTube channel Thursday. A spokeswoman for Amnesty International Russia told The Moscow Times that the video of the call posted on YouTube is authentic but declined to comment further.
The Guardian, 26 February 2021: 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.
The Moscow Times, 26 February 2021: 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.