Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been abruptly transferred from a prison where he was serving his sentence to an undisclosed location, according to his allies.
Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, has cast President Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a dystopian state run by thieves and criminals where wrong is portrayed as right and judges are in fact representatives of a doomed elite.
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Navalny’s top aide informed about the transfer on the Telegram app on Tuesday.
Just last month, Navalny lambasted Putin via video link in a Russian court, saying the Kremlin chief started a “stupid war” that was butchering the innocent people of both Ukraine and Russia.
When his lawyer arrived at Correctional Colony No 2, a prison camp in Pokrov, 119km (74 miles) east of Moscow, he was told, “There is no such convict here,” according to Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov.
“Where Alexey is now, and which colony he is being taken to, we don’t know,” Volkov said in a statement on Telegram.
Lawyer Olga Mikhaylova told Russia’s state news agency TASS that Navalny’s lawyers were told he was transferred to a maximum-security prison, “but which one, we weren’t told.”
Navalny’s spokeswoman said there was speculation that he was being taken to the high-security penal colony IK-6 Melekhovo near Vladimir, about 250km (155 miles) east of Moscow.
“The problem with his transfer to another colony is not only that the high-security colony is much scarier: it is more that we don’t know where Alexey is,” his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said.
“He is one-to-one with the system that has already tried to kill him.”
Russia’s prison service could not be reached for immediate comment.
Navalny earned admiration from the disparate Russian opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany where he underwent treatment for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia.
He was arrested upon returning from Germany and handed a two-and-a-half-year sentence for a parole violation.
On March 24, Navalny was sentenced to a further nine years in prison for fraud and contempt of court. The opposition leader has said the charges against him are fabricated and aimed at thwarting his political ambitions.
In the sentence, the judge ordered that Navalny be transferred to a maximum-security prison, where his rights to visits and correspondence will be reduced. He was supposed to be transferred to one after he lost his appeal.
Navalny’s political network has been largely dismantled since his jailing, having been banned as an “extremist” organisation. Senior aides and organisers have either been jailed or forced into exile.
The opposition leader said two weeks ago that he had been charged in a new criminal case with creating an extremist organisation and inciting hatred towards the authorities, offences that carry a maximum jail term of 15 more years.