Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been missing from the face of the earth for weeks: he is being transferred from one prison to another. NZZ’s correspondent in Moscow sheds light on the mysterious procedure.
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- Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is serving a 19-year prison sentence.
- There has been no sign of life from Navalny since the beginning of the month. Not even his lawyers know where he is.
- Navalny is transferred to a new prison. The fact that this process can take weeks, even months, and is carried out in secret is normal: this is what the NZZ correspondent in Russia says.
- Russian correctional authorities will try to make prisoners aware of their powerlessness.
Only one thing seems certain: Alexei Navalny is no longer in the IK-6 concentration camp, located about 260 kilometers east of Moscow. Where is perhaps the most famous prisoner in Russia? no one knows. Not even the legal team of Kremlin critics.
No trace of the opposition leader has been found since the beginning of December. This is not only angering those around him: at the beginning of the week, according to media reports, a judge in the Vladimir region suspended proceedings against the 47-year-old until his whereabouts are clarified.
This secrecy does not represent special treatment for President Putin’s critics, says Markus Akeret, Russia correspondent for NZZ: From the point of view of Russian penal authorities, transfers from one concentration camp to another are generally a “secret matter,” he says. In conversation with SRF.
The prisoner’s relatives and legal representatives will not be informed until the transfer is completed. “But that could take weeks or months, even if the place he is going is not far away.”
“He’s completely at their mercy.”
The fact that everything takes so long is certainly intentional: “Transportation is part of the punishment,” says an NZZ correspondent. The authorities will then make the prisoner aware of his incapacity. “He is completely at their mercy, and he does not know where he is going, and this is part of the humiliation.”
Even if almost everything is in the dark, in Navalny’s case, it is still possible to appreciate what he will face in the new concentration camp: especially the harsh prison conditions.
Akeret says that Navalny is so far imprisoned in the so-called “strict regime.” The “special system” will now apply to it. Prisoners are housed in small units. “They are not allowed to lie down during the day and they are not allowed to walk in the yard.”
The goal is clear: on the one hand, the Kremlin’s critics must be broken, and on the other hand, it must be cut off from the outside world. “This was one of the main goals of his sentencing in 2021. From the point of view of the authorities, it was not entirely successful,” says the Russian expert.
The UN Special Representative calls for his immediate release
The UN Human Rights Council’s special representative in charge of Russia, Mariana Katzarova, also expressed concern about Navalny’s safety and health: She warned on Monday in Geneva that the risk of prisoners’ human rights being violated was particularly high during his transfer to another prison. She demanded Navalny’s immediate release.
Of course, Navalny should not have high hopes: he was sentenced to 19 years in prison in August for alleged “extremist activities.” He has been behind bars since 2021.
Wherever the authorities take him now, he is threatened with a particularly painful prison sentence: Reality and official representations have not really matched Navalny, says NZZ correspondent Akeret: He has been treated more harshly than other prisoners.
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