Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has suddenly disappeared from his penal colony and speculation over his fate is running wild.
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has suddenly disappeared from his penal colony, one of his close aides has said. Now speculation as to his fate is running wild.
Prison guards reportedly didn’t recognise the name of the long-term critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin when a lawyer attempted to visit the IK-2 prison about 100km east of Moscow yesterday.
The lawyer was told, “there’s no such convict”, assistant Kira Yarmysh tweeted. “We don’t know where Aleksey is now and to what colony he is being taken.”
Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova later told Russian state-controlled news service Tass that the high-profile anti-corruption campaigner had been transferred “to a strict regime colony, but we were not told which one”.
Navalny last month said he feared he would be sent to the notorious IK-6 prison Melekhovo, in Vladimir Oblast.
“My new sentence has not yet entered into force, but I’ve heard rumours that I’ll be transferred to the high-security colony in Melekhovo, where convicts get their fingernails pulled out,” he tweeted on May 4.
Ms Yarmysh confirmed his fears. “It is impossible to know when (and if) he will actually arrive there,” she wrote. “Neither Alexei’s attorneys nor his relatives were informed about his transfer in advance.”
2/14 Abuse and torture are used against inmates in many Russian prisons, but IK-6 in Melekhovo is a monstrous place even by such insane standards.
On June 6, 2018, prisoner Gor Ovakimyan was murdered there after many days of torture. https://t.co/Eiy7xqaD2X
Navalny has been the target of several violent attacks and poisoning attempts in the past.
Grave fears are now held for his future.
“The problem with his transfer to another colony is not only that the high-security colony is much scarier,” Ms Yarmysh tweeted. “As long as we don’t know where Alexei is, he remains one-on-one with the system that has already tried to kill him, so our main task now is to locate him as soon as possible.”
If it is Melekhovo, it may have serious implications for the already seriously ill political prisoner.
“Conditions there are already worse than in other prisons: fewer parcels, fewer visits. But it’s even worse than that: there is no law there,” Ms Yarmysh added. “And that’s where Putin wants to put Navalny for not being afraid of him and telling the truth.”
Navalny has been campaigning for more than a decade against what he calls Putin’s “dystopian state”.
He was jailed for parole violations in 2021, immediately after returning from Germany where he had received treatment for Novichok nerve agent poisoning. The Russian-designed chemical weapon is a favourite in Kremlin assassination attempts.
Moscow denies trying to kill him.
Navalny has since been convicted of fraud. An appeal against the nine-year jail term was overturned last week.
Now he faces extremism allegations.
14/14 Melekhovo is a high-security colony. Conditions there are already worse than in other prisons: fewer parcels, fewer visits. But it's even worse than that: there is no law there. And that's where Putin wants to put Navalny for not being afraid of him and telling the truth.
Last week he posted to Instagram that he was being investigated under charges of “creating an extremist group to fan hatred against officials and oligarchs”. The offence comes with a jail term of 15 years.
Navalny isn’t the only Russian opposition leader to feel Putin’s wrath. Russian politician Leonid Volkov, investigative journalist Mariya Pevchikh and lawyer Lyubov Sobol have all fled the country. But they remain divided on how best to oppose the autocrat they left behind.
Navalny continues to be a thorn in Mr Putin’s side despite being behind bars.
He’s attacked Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as being “built entirely on lies”.
He’s also criticised Google and Facebook for shutting down advertising within Russia.
“Google and Meta, by shutting down their advertising in Russia, have deprived the opposition of the opportunity to conduct anti-war campaigns, giving a grandiose gift to Putin,” he accused last week.
“We love technology. We love social networks. We want to live in a free informational society. So let’s figure out how to keep the bad guys from using the information society to drive their nations and all of us into the dark ages.”