Quote for the Week. Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International: Aleksei Navalny “should not be detained […], he should not have been charged, and certainly not [poisoned].”

Week-ending 26 March 2021

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“What he [Aleksei Navalny] uttered in 2011 has no bearing on the fact that he should not be detained where he is, he should not have been charged, and certainly not have been [poisoned]. So, for my work and my standpoint, Amnesty’s position has no impact [and] had no influence on the way I think of Alexei or how I think about his work. When I start at Amnesty I intend to read through the report that has been done and to take it from there. And, you know, work with them to decide how we’re going to address the next step.”

-Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International


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The Guardian, 23 March 2021: Amnesty International itself has faced questions about a recent decision to strip Navalny, the critic of Vladimir Putin who was poisoned and then imprisoned in Russia, of his “prisoner of conscience” status. The decision followed pressure to condemn anti-migrant statements he made in the 2000s as hate speech. Employees of Amnesty International said the group had received messages about Navalny’s past remarks that they felt “were part of a coordinated campaign to discredit him abroad”, but nonetheless felt compelled to change his designation. Asked whether she would revisit the decision, Callamard told the Guardian that such designations – including marking differences between prisoners of conscience and political prisoners – had not been relevant to her work as a special rapporteur. Navalny’s right to not be poisoned, arbitrarily detained and silenced had been violated, no matter what his designation was, she said. “What he uttered in 2011 has no bearing on the fact that he should not be detained where he is, he should not have been charged, and certainly not have been [poisoned],” she said. “So, for my work and my standpoint, Amnesty’s position has no impact [and] had no influence on the way I think of Alexei or how I think about his work. When I start at Amnesty I intend to read through the report that has been done and to take it from there. And, you know, work with them to decide how we’re going to address the next step.”

Other related news:

RFE/RL, 22 March 2021: A military court in Moscow has rejected a lawsuit filed by jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny against the Main Military Investigative Directorate (GVSU) over its refusal to launch an investigation into his poisoning in Siberia with a nerve agent last August. Judge Andrei Tolkachenko of the 235th Garrison Military Court, ruled on March 22 that “the GVSU’s decision” not to launch a probe into Navalny’s poisoning was “legal and well-grounded,” and that Navalny’s lawsuit was “not worth considering.” Navalny’s attorney Vyacheslav Gimadi, who is representing him at the hearing, said the ruling will be appealed.

The Moscow Times, 22 March 2021: On a frosty March morning, a group of anti-Putin opposition activists gathered in a Soviet-era hotel on Moscow’s outskirts to plan their strategy for September elections to the country’s national parliament. Ten minutes later, the police arrived. Herded into police vans and shipped off to jail, around 200 attendees were charged en masse with participating in the activities of an undesirable organization, an offence that could see them banned from contesting elections. “I don’t think they really knew what they were doing,” Yevgeny Roizman, a former Yekaterinburg mayor and ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny who was among those arrested, told The Moscow Times.  “I think they were just lashing out at whoever they could find” For analysts, however, the arrests — which according to the RBC news site were supervised by the FSB — were the latest chapter in an ongoing campaign to exclude opposition candidates from September’s parliamentary vote as the ruling party defends its supermajority amid dismal polling and the threat of tactical voting by Navalny supporters.

The Moscow Times, 22 March 2021: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is serving a two-and-a-half-year jail term in a penal colony outside Moscow, on Monday compared his daily routine in prison to that of a stormtrooper in Star Wars. In a post on Instagram, the 44-year-old opposition politician described two parts of his early morning routine that he said he “adores”. The first, he wrote, comes shortly after prisoners are awakened at 6:00 am.  The convicts are immediately taken to the prison yard, Navalny said, where they prepare for morning exercises by listening to the Russian national anthem over loudspeakers and a voice that yells: “All hail our free Fatherland!” Then the prisoners begin marching in place, a part of the routine Navalny wrote that, at his suggestion, “everyone in my squadron is calling ‘The Empire Strikes Back’”.

RFE/RL: The team of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny is making a new push to free the anti-corruption campaigner with plans for the largest anti-Kremlin protest in Russia’s modern history. In an announcement on Navalny’s website on March 23, the team said the date and site of the rally will be announced once at least 500,000 people express their willingness to participate. The group also launched a special website to register those who would like to take part in the event as part of the push to get Navalny released from prison.

RFE/RL, 23 March 2021: A Moscow book fair has prompted accusations of censorship after it canceled an appearance by a debut author who is a top aide to jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s longtime spokeswoman and a prominent activist in her own right, was set to present her novel Incredible Incidents In Women’s Cell No. 3 at the Non/Fiction book festival, which will be held at an exhibition space near the Kremlin from March 24 to 28. But the book’s publisher, Corpus, revealed that its parent company had given in to pressure by the event’s organizers to withdraw Yarmysh’s appearance from the event.

RFE/RL, 23 March 2021: Ivan Tumanov was born three days before Vladimir Putin first became Russia’s president at the turn of the millennium. Now the 21-year-old who lives with his mother is the newest coordinator of an opposition movement that Putin, still president, is accused of using brutal tactics to dismantle. Since Putin’s biggest critic, Aleksei Navalny, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on February 2, his acolytes throughout Russia have been systematically targeted with raids, criminal charges, and police beatings amid a sweeping crackdown ahead of parliamentary elections expected in September.

The Guardian, 24 March 2021: Alexei Navalny has complained of a “sharp deterioration” in his health in prison and has been blocked from meeting lawyers, a senior aide to the Russian opposition leader has said. Navalny has reported “serious back pain” and numbness in one of his legs that has left him unable to stand on it, Leonid Volkov said on Wednesday. Navalny’s lawyers said they had been blocked from meeting him on Wednesday and they suspected that he was in an infirmary in the IK-2 prison colony in the Vladimir region. “We don’t understand where Alexei Navalny is or why he is being hidden from his lawyers,” they said, adding that they suspected the prison administration was trying to cover up his possible hospitalisation.

RFE/RL, 25 March 2021: Lawyers for jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny say their client is in great pain and fears for his life, contradicting a statement from Russian prison authorities that said the Kremlin critic was in “satisfactory” condition. Speaking to the TV Dozhd after visiting Navalny in prison on March 25, lawyer Olga Mikhailova said appeals by his legal team for the 44-year-old to be given the necessary treatment for his ailments have been ignored for four weeks. Mikhailova said Navalny was in an “extremely unfavorable” condition, suffering from severe back pain and issues with his right leg that has made it “practically nonfucntional.” Navalny’s condition and his whereabouts became an issue on March 24 after his allies said they were concerned over his deteriorating health and his failure to attend a scheduled visit with his lawyers in prison.

The Moscow Times, 25 March 2021: Russia said Thursday that jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny was in “satisfactory” condition, but failed to reassure his allies who demanded clarity about his health and whereabouts. Navalny, 44, was detained in January after landing in Russia from Germany where he was recovering for several months from a poisoning attack with a Soviet-designed nerve agent that nearly left him dead.

RFE/RL, 25 March 2021: Earlier this week, the team of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny announced a plan for massive public protests across the country this spring to call for Navalny’s release from prison on charges that many observers believe are politically motivated. “If you oppose corruption, repression, and political murders, help us secure the release of Aleksei,” they wrote on a special website launched to promote the project. “The main method of achieving this is public protests.” Among the many obstacles their efforts to mobilize the public now face is the fact that many of Russia’s most active citizens have left the country, many of them pushed out by persecution from the security services. Some of those who left were well-known national oppositionist figures such as economist Konstantin Sonin, environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova, journalist Oleg Kashin, and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

The Moscow Times, 26 March 2021: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny fears losing his leg in a penal colony where he is serving two and a half years, he said in an Instagram post Friday. Navalny’s lawyers warned this week that his life may be in danger because of four weeks of severe back pain and loss of sensation in one of his legs. Prison authorities said Navalny is in “stable and satisfactory” condition, a claim dismissed by his allies. In his latest post shared by members of his social media team, Navalny accused prison doctors of withholding his diagnosis after examining him last week.

RFE/RL, 26 March 2021: The United States and the European Union have reiterated their calls for Russia to immediately release of Aleksei Navalny, after the jailed opposition politician said he was suffering from severe back pains and that “nothing” was being done by prison authorities to solve the problem. In a message posted on his Instagram account on March 26, Navalny also said he had been warned by past prominent prisoners that getting sick in prison was potentially fatal. “Once Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who served 10 years in prison, told me: The main thing is not to get sick there,” the post said, referring to the owner of the former oil giant Yukos who spent a decade behind bars after being convicted in two controversial cases. “Nobody will treat you. If you get seriously ill, you will die,” he quoted Khodorkovsky as telling him.

RFE/RL, 26 March 2021: “Did they want to kill him?” wondered Jamison Firestone in a November 2009 interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “I don’t know.” Firestone was the managing partner of Firestone Duncan, a Moscow law firm that hired Sergei Magnitsky to look into suspicions of massive tax fraud and theft in the takeover of companies belonging to the investment firm Hermitage Capital Management. Magnitsky died after 358 days in a Moscow pretrial-remand prison on November 16, 2009. He had not been charged with any crime. “Magnitsky showed that a group of Interior Ministry officers were guilty of embezzling from the state budget the sum of $230 million,” Firestone said. “And these officers were among the group that arrested him. They did this in order to silence him. After his arrest, they had to justify their actions and create some accusations. It took them 10 months to fabricate their nonsensical story,” he said. “Clearly, the investigators were trying to force him to confess to things that were not true.”

The Moscow Times, 26 March 2021: Maria Alyokhina is no stranger to being prosecuted for her politics. The veteran Pussy Riot member is best known for her role in the group’s “Punk Prayer,” the provocative February 2012 protest in neon balaclavas at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. She and fellow activist Nadya Tolokonnikova would spend two years in a prison colony for the act. Nearly a decade later, Alyokhina, 32, once again finds herself at odds with the authorities as she may face up to two years in prison for an Instagram post demanding the release of political prisoners following the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.  Speaking to The Moscow Times from house arrest, Alyokhina said she is encouraged by the outpouring of support from the West calling for the release of Russian political prisoners like herself.  “When European and Western politicians stay silent, it leads to us being imprisoned,” Alyokhina said.

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