Watchdog Says One Year After Jailing, Navalny And His Associates Are In A ‘Living Hell’

Amnesty International is marking the first anniversary of Aleksei Navalny’s arrest by urging the international community and people across the world to join their voices to call for the Russian authorities to release the opposition politician and put an end to their “unprecedented campaign of repression and reprisals” against his supporters that it says has destroyed “all remnants of the rights to freedom of expression and association” in the country.

In the year since Navalny’s detention at a Moscow airport upon his arrival from Berlin, where he had been recovering after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020, the outspoken Kremlin critic, his supporters, and Russian civil society organizations “have suffered a relentless onslaught of repression,” Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said in a statement on January 17.

“Dozens of Navalny’s associates and supporters are facing prosecutions on bogus charges, while a growing number of them are already in prison,” Struthers said, while the Russian authorities “have labelled his organizations as ‘extremist’ and blocked their websites.”

Some of Navalny’s associates have fled the country fearing political persecution, “yet they now fear their relatives in Russia will suffer a similar fate of unfounded prosecution and imprisonment,” she said, adding: “On the anniversary of his detention, Navalny and the political activists associated with him are in a living hell.”

Navalny was detained in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021, and a Moscow court two weeks later ruled that, while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole from an old embezzlement case that is widely considered to have been politically motivated.

Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a jail term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time he had been held in detention.

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The opposition politician has claimed his near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning.

In June 2021, two organizations founded by Navalny– the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Citizens’ Rights Defense Foundation (FZPG) — were officially labelled as “extremist” and banned. Their activities have since been criminalized.

In September 2021, a criminal case was opened against Navalny and his associates under the charge of creating an “extremist association,” while the opposition politician also faces up to 15 additional years in prison if convicted on charges that include fraud and money laundering in relation to alleged misappropriation of donations to his nongovernmental organizations.

On January 14 this year, two associates of Navalny — Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov — were added to a Russian list of “extremists and terrorists,” and their assets in the country are now blocked.

Zhdanov's father was handed a suspended prison sentence last year in a corruption case that critics say is politically motivated.

“The callous actions of the Kremlin, who remain hellbent on silencing and vilifying Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, must end now,” Struthers said, adding that the people of Russia “should not have to suffer from the relentless suppression of their human rights.”

According to Struthers, more than 360,000 people around the world have signed a petition launched by Amnesty International to calls for the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Navalny.

The European Union, Britain, and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russian officials over Navalny’s imprisonment and poisoning.

European lawmakers chose Navalny as the recipient of the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on October 20, saying he “has campaigned consistently against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime.”

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