Amnesty International has apologised to jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny for stripping him of its “prisoner of conscience” status and said it would restore the designation.
Amnesty announced on February 24 that it would stop referring to Navalny as a prisoner of conscience on the grounds that in the past he had made comments that qualified as an advocacy of hatred.
“Following careful evaluation Amnesty International has decided to re-designate Alexei Navalny as a ‘Prisoner of Conscience,'” the rights group said in a statement on its website on Friday.
“Amnesty International made a wrong decision, which called our intentions and motives into question at a critical time, and apologises for the negative impacts this has had on Alexei Navalny personally,” the statement read.
We are re-designating Alexei Navalny as Prisoner of Conscience. He has been imprisoned for demanding a government that is free from corruption, the right to equal participation in public life for himself & his supporters. These are acts of conscience.#FreeNavalny now. pic.twitter.com/vOR3MpmIaf
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) May 7, 2021
The 44-year-old Russian opposition politician was arrested in January and sentenced to jail for parole violations he called trumped up.
Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, said on Twitter that “the ability to recognise mistakes and move on is the most important thing that distinguishes normal people from Putins”.
Navalny has been criticised for past nationalist statements against irregular immigration and for attending an annual nationalist march several years ago.
Amnesty said it had reviewed its process for naming people as prisoners of conscience and would no longer remove the designation solely based on their past conduct.
“Some of Navalny’s previous statements are reprehensible and we do not condone them in the slightest. As a human rights organisation, Amnesty International will continue to fight racism and all forms of discrimination wherever they exist,” the group said.
The human rights group said that by redesignating Navalny’s status as a prisoner of conscience, it was not “endorsing his political programme, but are highlighting the urgent need for his rights”.
‘Height of hypocrisy’
In February, the Kremlin made a point of noting that Navalny had lost the support of the group, a point that led to Amnesty being criticised by other human rights entities.
Amnesty said the decision to strip Navalny of the status was never meant to be made public and that the Russian government took advantage of the move “to further violate Navalny’s rights”.
“That was the height of hypocrisy, coming from a government that not only attempted to kill Navalny by poisoning, but has carried out unconscionable acts over the past two decades, including torture, enforced disappearances and widespread repression of political freedoms in Russia and abroad, as well as war crimes in Syria.”
Navalny was arrested in January upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin – an accusation officials have routinely rejected as false.
Navalny says that he has been denied adequate medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his limbs in prison.
Last month, he ended a 24-day hunger strike after he was examined at a civilian hospital.
He has also complained of “torture” through sleep deprivation, saying he is woken up every hour through the night because he is considered a flight risk by the authorities.