Two years and eight months. That is the verdict Alexei Navalny received from the Moscow court. After immediately appealing against the decision of the court, he only managed to achieve a reduced sentence. Reduced by two months, to be exact. But what even led to his imminent imprisonment?
Alexei Navalny is a Russian lawyer, mostly known as an opposition leader against Vladimir Putin’s government. He is the leader of an opposition political party called Russia of the Future, and he also tried to run for president in 2018. Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, he was barred from participating because of his previous criminal convictions regarding his alleged embezzlement.
He is also the founder of the FBK, a non-profit organization concerning itself with investigating, exposing and preventing corruption of the high government officials. Navalny established it in 2011, and since then, it was a target of many politically-motivated raids, lawsuits and arrests to liquidate it. Despite all of these occurrences, the FBK still manages to publish documentaries about the finds on their Youtube channel.
All of these inconveniences and smaller “incidents” finally culminated in August 2020. On the 20th of August, Alexei Navalny was poisoned. The symptoms first presented themselves on a plane, and after an emergency landing, Navalny was rushed to a hospital in Omsk. He remained there until his transport to a hospital in Berlin. There the doctors confirmed a poisoning by a nerve agent, Novichok. After an investigation, everything was traced back to the FSB, a Russian secret service, with Navalny still convinced that the order came from Putin.
The Palace for Putin
While hospitalized, Navalny came with an idea for the next investigation. This time regarding Vladimir Putin himself and, more specifically, his famous palace and the means with which he had it built. In the resulting documentary, everyone has a chance to see the Dvorec for themselves, thanks to high resolution drone images. And there is a lot to see.
Putin managed to create a state-within-state, the palace itself being the largest private residential buildings in Russia. The officially confirmed area consists of almost 70 000 m2. It includes a port, various vineyards, a teahouse, a church and much more. One of the more curious structures is, for example, an underground ice hockey rink and an 80-metres long bridge.
But what about security? Putin spared no expense here either. A fence encloses the grounds, and there is a no-flight zone above the estate. Journey to the Palace requires going through multiple security check-points with full searchings. All boats must always remain at least one mile from the cape with the palace.
The documentary also exposes the means used to gain the money and even points at Putin’s accomplices. And it turns out that most of the monetary resources come from taxes. I will not go into more details, but for those who are interested, the documentary is freely available on Alexei Navalny’s YouTube channel here.
The Arrest, the Trial and the Protests
On the 17th of January this year, Alexei Navalny returned to Russia only to be arrested right at the airport. The reason? Navalny’s violation of parole by departure from Russia due to his poisoning and subsequent transport to Germany. This incident immediately sparked waves of protests all over Russia. The biggest protests took place on the 23rd and 31st of January. The police arrested more than 10 000 people for joining in the protesting, with sentences ranging from short-term imprisonment to fines. The protests are currently postponed until Spring and Summer to not distract from the parliament elections in September, which was Navalny’s wish.
And which charges did Navalny face? First, there was the embezzlement accusation concerning FBK and then the slander of a World War II veteran. Although this accusation did not add any time to the sentence, it served mainly to discredit Navalny even more.
Navalny’s treatment naturally brought the attention of the Western world. Many politicians openly critiqued the court process and demanded his immediate release. Russia condemned all of the critiques as meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. As a retaliation, the EU decided to, for the first time, use the so-called Magnitsky Act, allowing to sanction specific Russian officials. The sanctions include freezing their European assets and travel bans.
During a recent development, Alexei Navalny was stripped of his title ‘prisoner of conscience’ by Amnesty International. Their reasoning for this act were Navalny’s anti-immigrant statements issued in 2007, which he refused to retract. This action served only to, again, discredit Navalny. And thanks to a prank call to one of the Amnesty officials, where the caller pretended to be Leonid Volkov (one of Navalny’s coworkers), they admitted this move had done much damage.
After receiving the verdict, Alexei Navalny was moved back to the Moscow prison. But since Thursday, due to a process called etapirovaniye, his whereabouts are unknown. The Russian Penal Service just confirmed his transfer to an unknown penal colony. Penal colonies are common forms of prison in Russia, where the prisoners are expected to perform labour. Unfortunately, the transfer may take several days or even weeks, when not even Navalny’s family may not know where he is.
Now, we can only hope that the governments will continue to put pressure on Navalny’s release. Consequently, the European Court of Human Rights also demands Navalny to be freed. And now is the right time to finally show Russia that the EU won’t stand for the violation of human rights.
On Monday, the EU placed sanctions on four high Russian officials in response to Navalny’s prosecution and subsequent verdict. Those officials were, among others, the head of Russia’s prison service and the prosecutor general. Moreover, the UN finally released its report on Novichok poisoning. The statement officially labels the poisoning as “deliberately carried out to send a clear, sinister warning” to those opposing the government.
But most importantly, although it is not officially confirmed, many Russian news reports claim that Alexei Navalny will serve his sentence in the Penal Colony no. 2 (also known by the initials IK2), near the town of Pokrov in Vladimir Oblast. Navalny’s YouTube channel released a new video detailing the conditions which the prisoners have to endure. All of the witness accounts from the former inmates describe the prison colony as a “place where nothing is allowed”. A prison considered horrible even by Russian standards, an institution using methods more suited for the Middle Ages.
So what can we expect Navalny to experience? His prospects are not bright in the least. Humiliation, psychological pressure, physical abuse and complete isolation are a part of the ordinary day there. The prisoners are treated as lower than human beings, forced to endure bullying from the wardens and even other inmates. First exposed to psychological abuse, they then have to do slave labour. To everyone interested in more details about the colony, I would recommend watching the video here.
Isolation and crispbread
However, as Navalny’s last Instagram post from 3rd February implies, he is currently in Detention facility No. 3 in town, Kolchugino in Vladimir Oblast. According to his words, he is in isolation with two other prisoners, and their spirits are rather high. They are enjoying themselves drying crispbread and trying different approaches to making it. He claims he is okay, although he does not receive any information from the outside world. An unnamed source confirmed that the quarantine in this facility precedes Navalny’s transfer to the Pokrov Penal Colony mentioned above.
And as Mr Navalny bids us best wishes, we too hope he will remain unharmed, and his release will soon be accomplished.