The imprisonment of Alexei Navalny
20th March 2021
Alexei Navalny. A lawyer, politician, leader, and most importantly – a human being. On 17 January 2021, the 44-year-old Russian was sentenced to three and a half years in prison due to violating his parole which occurred back in 2014. According to the Moscow Court, Navalny disobeyed his probation terms over the 2014 money-laundering case. Russian authorities were suspicious that money-laundering was taking place with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. If anyone was found guilty of such a crime, they would be facing up to seven years in jail. This case along with several others were reviewed by the court, the result was Navalny’s jail sentence was shortened. The court included his time under house arrest and henceforth, Navalny will only be required to serve two years and eight months in jail instead of three and a half. Navalny has stated that his so-called violation parole is politically motivated, and he believes that Russia is doing this in order to make people afraid. According to Navalny himself “This is how it works- they imprison one man, as a means to intimidate millions of people.”
Back in August 2020, Navalny was nearly killed by an attempted poisoning was organised by the Federal Security Services. He was sent to Germany, where he was treated and recovered. Upon his return to Russia. This resulted in uproar amongst his supporters, with large protests taking place across Russia. The Russian authorities attempted to diffuse the situation and went as far as detaining more than 10,000 protestors. According to the Human Rights group OVD-Info, 5,021 people detained throughout the country on January 31, 2021. This included more than 1,600 in Moscow and 1,100 in St. Petersburg.
Various human right organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have provided any possible aid towards Alexei’s imprisonment. Amnesty International are one of many organisations fighting for his release. Amnesty’s Moscow Office Director, Natalya Zviagina, stated that “The politically motivated sentencing of Alexei Navalny shows the true face of the Russian authorities, who seem intent on locking up anyone who dares speak up against their abuses and repression of human rights.”
“This is how it works- they imprison one man, as a means to intimidate millions of people.”
In recent news, however, Amnesty have released that they have stripped Navalny of his title of “prisoner of conscience”. It has been claimed that Navalny advocated for violence and discrimination from a statement made in 2000 which was linked to hate speech and because of this, Amnesty are no longer providing him with the “prisoner of conscience” title. The comments that Navalny made during this time have not been entirely specified but according to sources, Navalny commented on anti-migration and apparently went to the extent of comparing immigrants to rotten teeth. This change for Navalny does not mean that Amnesty have stopped to fight for his release; it is simply the case that they will not be referring to him as a “prisoner of conscience” within their law and policy department.
When the European Court of Human Rights released a statement to Russia urging Navalny’s release, Russia refused, less than pleased that people in Europe are “meddling” with their affairs. Now would be the time to highlight that Russia simply ignores any ruling that is made outside of its state boundaries. This is due to a new constitutional amendment introduced in 2016, stating that the Russian authorities have the right to ignore international legal decisions that may disrupt their “power”. Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, has said that Navalny’s case is only to be dealt in Russia, and that Russia will not take any instruction from foreign governments.
The EU have responded by imposing sanctions on four Russian government officials due to Navalny’s imprisonment. The United States are also on board with the fight against Moscow, with the Biden administration imposing sanctions on seven senior Russian officials. President Biden himself made it clear the days of the US “rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyber-attacks, poisoning citizens are over.”
As of now, Navalny is spending the first half of his jail sentence in Matrosskaya Tishina jail, which is located about 100 kilometres east of Moscow. This prison is notorious for its extremely harsh conditions. While former inmates have stated that Navalny may not be physically harmed due to his high profile, he will undergo psychological harm due to the extremely levels of discipline, and the minimal time allocated for any social interaction with other inmates.
Combining Navalny’s current situation with the numerous charges and trials held against him, it is easy to see that Russia goes to extreme lengths in order to silence any person who does not follow orders. With Russia having such a tight authoritarian regime, anyone who fights for basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom to protest, seems to face a serious backlash. Russia will not stop, even if there are many organisations and bodies defending Navalny and fighting for his release. Russia will not stop even if their enemies continue to grow in numbers. However, what is most important is that Navalny does not entail to give up, the more Russia push, the more he along with others, will continue to fight back.
Featured Photo from Michal Siergiejevicz on Flickr