Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he was “fine” and had been relocated to a new penal colony in the Russian Arctic, after supporters lost track of him for three weeks, raising fears about his safety.
“I now live above the Arctic Circle,” Navalny said in a message on his social media, which is run by a team of supporters from abroad. “The 20 days of my transportation were pretty exhausting, but I’m still in a good mood . . . I’m totally relieved that I’ve finally made it.”
Navalny, 47, a charismatic anti-corruption activist who has been in prison for almost three years, was most recently housed in a penal colony in the Vladimir region of central Russia.
The conditions of his incarceration have been steadily worsening as the Kremlin increasingly isolates him from the outside world. Although his transfer to a different prison was expected, when his team lost contact with him earlier this month, some feared the worst.
Navalny, a critic of President Vladimir Putin, was expected to be transferred to a “special regime” prison colony after being sentenced in August to 19 years for extremism, on top of the 11 and a half years he was already serving on a separate conviction.
In early December, when Navalny suddenly failed to appear at several court hearings, which he would normally do via video link, his team of supporters began trying to locate him in prisons across the country.
It took the team 618 requests to prison authorities across the country and weeks of work by his lawyers to find him, said Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.
“It was clear from the beginning that the authorities wanted to isolate Alexei, especially before the elections,” Zhdanov said, referring to the presidential vote that will be held in March.
“There was a complete block on information about him,” Zhdanov added. “Even today, the Supreme Court claims not to know where he is.”
The opposition leader, who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany in 2021 after recovering from a nerve agent poisoning, produced an extensive investigation into the assassination attempt to demonstrate it was conducted by the state. Putin has denied Navalny’s allegations that he gave the order to kill him.
He was relocated to a prison in the Yamal-Nenets region of Russia, Zhdanov said. The penal colony, near the village of Kharp, is located above the Arctic Circle.
“We were looking for him and we found him. Alexey is alive, and he’s fine. But that is where the good news ends,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, wrote on Telegram.
“It’s almost impossible to get to this colony, it’s almost impossible to even send letters there . . . It’s the highest possible level of isolation from the world — that’s what this is all about,” Volkov said.
At his previous prison, Navalny was frequently placed in isolation but was able to see his lawyers regularly and communicate with his team and the world through their visits and by exchanging letters.
However, the Kremlin continued to ratchet up pressure on the activist, and in October, three of Navalny’s lawyers were detained, charged with being part of an extremist group, which carries a sentence of up to six years in prison. Navalny described this as an attempt to further isolate him.
Credit: Source link