Kremlin has ‘no information’ on missing Putin critic Alexey Navalny

Russian opposition figure has been moved from penal colony and lawyers say they haven’t seen him since last week.

Alexey Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from prison before a 2022 court hearing on his sentence [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

The Kremlin has said it has “no information” about jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, whose lawyers have not seen since December 6.

Prison authorities moved him from the penal colony where he was serving his sentence for multiple charges including extremism, but have not said where he was transferred to.

Prison officials told a court on Friday that Navalny had left the IK-6 facility in the town of Melekhovo in the Vladimir region, about 230km (140 miles) east of Moscow, according to Vyacheslav Gimadi, the head of the legal department at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

“We don’t know [where he is] for the 10th day,” the lawyer posted on X.

Navalny, who rose to prominence by lampooning President Vladimir Putin’s elite and alleging extensive corruption, was sentenced in August to an additional 19 years in prison on top of the 11 and a half years he was already serving.

His allies had been preparing for his expected transfer to a “special regime” high-security facility, the harshest grade in Russia’s prison system, before he was moved.

“Where he was taken is not known,” Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, posted on X, saying he was moved on December 11. “Let me remind you that the lawyers have not seen Alexey since December 6.”

When asked on Friday if the Kremlin had any information about what was happening to Navalny, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “No. I repeat again: we do not have the capacity, or right, or desire, to track the fates of those prisoners who are serving sentences by order of a court.”

Another Navalny ally, Maria Pevchikh, meanwhile, has asked the United Nations Human Rights Committee to help them locate him.

“What is happening with Alexey is, in fact, an enforced disappearance and a flagrant violation of his fundamental rights. Answers must be given,” she said on Thursday.

‘Politically motivated incarceration’

Rights groups have also weighed in. Amnesty International acknowledged “the possibility that he may be in transit to another prison colony”.

But it added that, “as if attempted poisoning, imprisonment and inhumane conditions of detention were not enough, Alexey Navalny may now have been subjected to an enforced disappearance”.

Navalny earned admiration from Russia’s disparate opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent.

Navalny says he was poisoned in Siberia in August 2020. The Kremlin denied trying to kill him and said there was no evidence he was poisoned.

The Kremlin on Tuesday criticised what it called United States “interference” in Navalny’s case, after the US said it was “deeply concerned” by allies saying they had no access to him.

“We are talking about a prisoner who was found guilty by the law and is serving the prison sentence he received. Any interference, including from the US, is unacceptable,” Peskov said then.

France on Friday added its voice to the growing chorus of international concern over the lack of news about Navalny.

“France considers Russia responsible for the health of its detainees, in particular political prisoners,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Christophe Lemoine.

“The lack of news for the past several days is very worrying,” he added.

Earlier this week, the European Union called for Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional release from politically motivated incarceration”.

“Russia’s political leadership is responsible for his safety and health in prison for which they will be held to account,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell posted on X.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies