Russian opposition chief Navalny goes lacking as Putin seeks re-election | EUROtoday

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Jailed Russian opposition chief Alexei Navalny didn’t seem at a scheduled courtroom listening to on Monday and has not been seen or heard from in 15 days. Amid hypothesis that he has been secretly moved to a different jail or is severely unwell, the UN has raised issues of an “enforced disappearance” that might coincide with the launch of President Vladimir Putin’s marketing campaign for re-election in March 2024.

In the Russian area of Vladimir, 100 kilometres east of Moscow, Alexei Navalny was scheduled to seem in courtroom on Monday, if solely by way of video hyperlink from the detention centre the place he has been held since 2021.

Judges have been to listen to seven circumstances towards the opposition chief, who’s serving an nearly 30-year sentence after being discovered responsible of crimes together with fraud, slander and extremism.

When he failed to seem in courtroom, the judges determined to push again the hearings “until Navalny’s whereabouts are ‘established’,” his press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, posted on social media platform X.

She mentioned Navalny’s staff contacted almost 200 pre-trial detention centres in Russia hoping to trace down the opposition chief, however with out success.

‘Enforced disappearance’

Navalny’s staff final heard from him on December 5. Lawyers have been refused entry to see him in jail on December 6 with no clarification, Yarmysh mentioned.

But Navalny’s failure to seem even at a courtroom listening to has ratcheted up worldwide fears over his wellbeing.

“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,” mentioned Mariana Katzarova, the UN particular rapporteur on human rights within the Russian Federation, in a December 18 assertion.

Navalny’s disappearance appears conveniently timed. Putin on December 8 introduced his candidature for Russia’s presidential election on March 17, 2024, and is broadly anticipated to win.

Putin oversaw adjustments to the constitutional in 2021 that enable him to run for 2 extra six-year phrases, that means he might keep in energy till 2036. He is already the longest-serving Kremlin chief since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who died in 1953.

Navalny has risked his life by positioning himself as Putin’s most vocal critic in an more and more repressive Russia. He survived being poisoned with novichok – a gaggle of nerve brokers developed by the Soviet Union – in 2020 and spent months recuperating in Germany.

Another Putin critic and chief of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, died in a non-public aircraft crash two months after launching an aborted march on Moscow.

While there are professional fears over Navalny’s security, one other possible motive for his disappearance could also be extra mundane.

“It is very common for prisoners to disappear for several weeks while being transferred [between prisons],” mentioned Oleg Kozlovsky, Russia specialist at Amnesty International. “The most likely hypothesis is that he has been transferred to a special colony somewhere far from where he was held until now.”

A 2017 Amnesty International report explains that the dimensions of Russia and the distant location of penal colonies “means that prisoners must be transported over great distances” throughout transfers, with journeys usually taking a month or extra.

Prisoners are usually moved between colonies on devoted trains with out being advised the place they’re going, and “in conditions that often amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, the Amnesty report discovered.

Carriages are overcrowded and passengers can lack entry to sleeping areas and bogs during the journey. “Conditions are reportedly worse than in normal cells in pre-trial detention which are worse than in correctional colonies and below international standards,” the rights group wrote.

‘Special regime’

Navalny has been susceptible to the sort of long-distance switch since his most up-to-date sentencing on August 4, throughout which he was discovered responsible of “extremism”, including 19 extra years to his sentence.

His new sentence additionally specified a change in detention circumstances, shifting Navalny from the “strict regime” penal colony in Vladimir to a safer “special regime” colony, reserved for probably the most harmful prisoners.

Under particular regime circumstances, “there are harsher restrictions on how often you can have contact with [the] outside world, how many calls you are allowed to make and how many packages you can receive”, Kozlovsky mentioned.

“He may also be in stricter isolation and, after all, a lot additional away from Moscow, that means it is going to be even more durable for his lawyer and household to see him.”

It will also be much more difficult for Navalny to continue his vocal opposition to Putin. Even from a “strict regime” prison, Navalny was able to communicate with a global audience and mount an opposition to the Russian leader.

In a video released on Navaly’s website on December 7, he urged Russians to vote for any candidate “except Vladimir Putin”.

“The current crackdown on both leading dissidents and grassroots activists is so severe that it would seem logical that the authorities are seeking to restrict Alexei Navalny’s access to the outside world as much as possible,” said Morvan Lallouet, a specialist in contemporary Russia at the University of Kent and co-author of “Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future?”

“It is pretty wonderful that he has been capable of get a lot out in in the present day’s Russia,” agreed Stephen Hall, a Russian politics skilled on the University of Bath.

“My guess can be that somebody within the administration has determined this was a superb second to switch Navalny and due to this fact he will probably be lacking for round a month.”

Health concerns

Navalny’s failure to appear at his court hearing has raised new concerns over his health. He has reportedly been kept in unsanitary conditions and repeatedly confined to isolation cells, which, his team says, has taken a toll on his health.

In a rare show of defiance, more than 200 Russian doctors signed an open letter in January calling on Putin to “stop abusing” Navalny in prison by “deliberately” harming his health.

In early December, Navalny’s team said he collapsed in the solitary cell in which he was being held and needed an IV to recover.

It is possible that his disappearance means that Russian authorities “are attempting to cover a deterioration in Navalny’s well being”, mentioned Lallouet.

“[But] we are staying optimistic and hoping that he is just being transferred between penal colonies.”

This article was tailored from the unique in French.