UN Expert Raises Concern Over Disappearance of Alexei Navalny

Photo: Alexei Navalny / Instagram
Photo: Alexei Navalny / Instagram

UN Expert Raises Concern Over Disappearance of Alexei Navalny

Navalny’s family and lawyers have sent letters to all penal colonies, trying to identify his whereabouts.

By RMN News Service

A UN human rights expert* raised her concerns with the Russian authorities about the enforced disappearance of prominent Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, whose whereabouts and wellbeing have been unknown for over 10 days, including his failure to appear at a scheduled court hearing last Friday.

“I am greatly concerned that the Russian authorities will not disclose Mr. Navalny’s whereabouts and wellbeing for such a prolonged period of time which amounts to enforced disappearance,” said Mariana Katzarova, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.

Kremlin critic Navalny, 47, is a fierce political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was arrested in Moscow by the Russian authorities on 17 January 2021 immediately after his return from Germany where he was recovering from a failed poisoning attempt.

Navalny is currently serving a harsh prison sentence after recovering from the assassination attempt, which was allegedly made with orders from Putin.

In June 2021, the Russian government had also outlawed Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) by declaring it an “extremist” outfit. Navalny’s FBK has been declared a “foreign agent” under another draconian law.

The hostile action against Navalny has been taken despite a slew of sanctions and censure statements by the U.S. and European leaders against Russia. It is alleged that after sending him to jail under frivolous charges, the Russian regime is slowly trying to murder Navalny, who is serving a torturous prison sentence.

He is not being provided proper medical treatment as Navalny continues to be sick in solitary confinement where he was kept by the Russian authorities. On 10 January 2023, over 400 doctors in Russia signed an open letter to President Putin demanding that prison authorities stop abusing Navalny. But Putin has no respect for such humanitarian appeals.

As Navalny is perhaps the only leader who can challenge Putin’s attempt to rule forever, it is believed that the Russian regime is trying to kill him slowly in jail. Putin has signed a new legislation that will allow him to stay in power until 2036, while his second consecutive and fourth overall presidential term ends in 2024.

With the aim to thwart Navalny’s political challenge to Putin, in 2021 a new law in Russia banned Navalny from running for any elected post for a period of 5 years.

Meanwhile, on 17 January 2023, the Council of Europe called on the Russian authorities to honour the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment on Navalny case so that he could be released from jail. But the Russian authorities ignored the appeal from the Council of Europe.

[ Also Read: Volker Türk Makes Shallow Statements, But Fails to Protect Human Rights ]

Meanwhile, Navalny’s family and lawyers have sent letters to all penal colonies, trying to identify his whereabouts. In response, they received initial information that he might be at an Omsk penal colony, but that information was later rejected.

He was being prepared to be transferred to a harsher regime penal colony after he was sentenced on 4 August 2023 to an additional 19 years on baseless “extremism” charges, the UN Special Rapporteur said, warning that detainees are most vulnerable during transportation, carrying high risks of grave human rights violations. 

The unrelenting criminal prosecution of Navalny has been widely condemned internationally, indicating blatant abuse of the court system for political purposes.

Furthermore, on 13 October 2023, three of Navalny’s lawyers were arrested on charges of “extremism” and are now themselves facing the risk of lengthy imprisonment. With the arrest of his lawyers, Russian authorities have attempted to deprive Navalny of contact and communication beyond the prison confines, as well as to strip him of his right to defence.  

This is part of a pattern of persistent persecution of human rights lawyers in the Russian Federation who represent dissident voices, and the dangerous use of “extremism” charges in politically motivated cases. 

“I call on Russian authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations. The term “extremism” has no basis in international law, and when it triggers criminal liability it constitutes a violation of human rights, which must be condemned,” the UN expert said.

“Mr. Navalny and all those arbitrarily detained should be released immediately and provided remedies and reparations for all the harm suffered, in line with international human rights obligations,” the Special Rapporteur said in a statement issued on December 18.

*The expert: Mariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation. Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

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