Navalny’s dying chillingly reminds Russia’s political prisoners of dangers | EUROtoday

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MOSCOW — For the a whole bunch of political prisoners in Russia’s brutal penitentiary system, phrase of the dying of the nation’s most distinguished jailed dissident, Alexei Navalny, took days to reach — and carried a terrifying, if apparent, reminder: None of them are secure.

News of Navalny’s sudden dying on Feb. 16 in an Arctic penal colony, was barely disseminated on state TV and radio channels, usually the one supply of data for prisoners. Letters from outdoors normally take days, generally weeks, to move by means of censors.

“For the first time, I am glad that the news took a while to get here. It would have been better if it didn’t come at all,” stated Andrei Pivovarov, a Russian opposition activist who’s serving a four-year sentence in Karelia in northern Russia after being arrested in 2021 on costs of working for an “undesirable organization.”

“This is no longer another step toward the abyss,” Pivovarov stated, “but a flight into it, an acceleration.”

Since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities has cracked down mercilessly on political opponents and critics of the battle, prompting many to flee into exile and sweeping many into jail, usually with exceedingly lengthy sentences. Some had been shut associates of Navalny, like Vladimir Kara-Murza, a democracy advocate and Washington Post Opinions contributor, who was sentenced final yr to 25 years for treason.

Human rights group Memorial has acknowledged almost 630 folks in Russia as political prisoners, which incorporates greater than 400 persecuted for his or her faith. According to OVD-Info, a watchdog which tracks arrests and detention, greater than 1,000 folks have been imprisoned in Russia on politically motivated costs.

Ilya Yashin, a veteran opposition activist and longtime collaborator of Navalny’s starting within the early 2000s once they had been members of the progressive Yabloko political get together, discovered of his good friend’s sudden dying on Monday — three days after it occurred — from his lawyer who visited him.

“Tell me this isn’t true,” Yashin, in shock, initially pleaded with the lawyer, Mikhail Biryukov.

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In 2022, Yashin was sentenced to eight years for publishing stories about atrocities by the Russian navy in Bucha, Ukraine.

In a follow-up letter, Yashin wrote that “the pain and horror are unbearable.” He in contrast Navalny’s dying with that of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition chief who was shot and killed close to the Kremlin in 2015. Yashin additionally acknowledged the true hazard he faces day by day he stays imprisoned.

“Now both my friends are dead. I feel a black emptiness inside,” Yashin wrote. “And, of course, I understand my own risks. I am behind bars, my life is in Putin’s hands, and it’s in danger.”

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, his crew and associates, have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin straight of getting him murdered. President Biden and different leaders have stated they maintain Putin “responsible.”

Local authorities, nevertheless, stated Navalny died of “natural causes” and have refused to launch Navalny’s physique to his mom, fueling accusations of a coverup. Lyudmila Navalnaya stated Thursday that Russian officers had been attempting to “blackmail” her into holding a non-public funeral for her son, they usually threatened to let his physique decompose if she refused.

Prison circumstances in Russia are notoriously unhealthy, and rights teams have documented pervasive use of torture.

Navalny’s household, his political crew and Russian journalists reporting on the jail system, stated that jail officers had intentionally created “unbearable” circumstances for Navalny since his arrest in January 2021, when he returned to Moscow from Germany the place he was handled after being poisoned, allegedly by Russian safety brokers.

In all, Navalny spent 295 days in a punishment cell — with authorities usually asserting that he breached minor jail guidelines. Inmates should not speculated to spend greater than 15 days in such harsh confinement, and the European Court of Human Rights has acknowledged repeat placement in punishment cells as torture.

Navalny’s well being was broken by the poisoning assault, during which a military-grade nerve agent was laced in his underwear. He spent weeks in a coma and needed to relearn how you can stroll and eat. After being jailed, his well being continued to deteriorate, his household and attorneys stated. In the years since, his crew publicized a number of well being scares and repeated denial of therapy.

For many younger Russians, goals of democracy died with Alexei Navalny

Maxim Litavrin, a journalist for Mediazona, an unbiased Russian outlet protecting Russia’s jail system, described circumstances of a punishment cell as “terrible.” “We don’t know what killed Alexei Navalny, and we won’t find out until an independent examination,” Litavrin stated, “but putting a person in such conditions for almost a year is murder.”

As for common well being care in Russian prisons, Litavrin stated: “There is practically no medicine.”

Inmates usually have entry solely to antiseptic and over-the-counter painkillers — ibuprofen if they’re fortunate. Prison medical workers are poorly paid and sometimes poorly certified.

“Complex diseases in colonies are not treated at all,” Litavrin stated. Over the years, he added, the European Court of Human Right has been inundated with lawsuits by family of prisoners who died in Russian colonies resulting from lack of care.

A day earlier than Navalny’s dying, Ivan Zyryanov, a 43-year-old prisoner within the Trans-Baikal area, needed to be carried right into a courtroom listening to after his legs stopped working — partly as a result of lack of enough medical care.

Alexei Gorinov, 62, a former native legislator in Moscow, was sentenced in July 2022 to seven years for denouncing the battle in Ukraine. Gorinov suffers from a continual illness, is lacking a part of a lung and has been positioned in a punishment cell at the least 5 instances, his attorneys stated.

The attorneys stated that he suffers from fevers and bronchitis, however jail authorities are denying him entry to a medical unit.

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After Navalny’s dying, households of political prisoners stated they’re extra frightened than ever.

“It’s a lot scarier now,” stated Tatiana Balazeikina, whose son, Yegor Balazeikin, 17, is serving six years for terrorism after throwing a molotov cocktail at a navy registration workplace final yr to protest the battle.

“We understand that if they didn’t save a well-known figure like Navalny, then as for a bunch of convicts that the world doesn’t really know about — no one will take care of them at all,” Balazeikina stated.

Balazeikin suffers from a fancy autoimmune illness, his mom stated, and in accordance with the principles of the juvenile detention middle, his dad and mom can present medication and take him for unbiased examinations. But Balazeikina stated that after a physician’s go to in August, her son was prescribed a therapy for ulcers, which he was by no means given. Last week, a physician stated the ulcers had worsened.

“For people who are in prison, the responsibility lies with the state for their health and for their lives,” Balazeikina stated. “Neither parents, nor lawyers, nor any other relatives can control a person’s stay behind bars in any way.” She stated she worries continually for her son.

“If a person dies in prison, it doesn’t matter for what reasons,” Balazeikina stated, “then only the state is to blame.”

Alexandra Popova, 30, a human rights activist and spouse of imprisoned poet Artyom Kamardin — who late final yr was sentenced to seven years for public readings of antiwar poetry — spoke of the ache of understanding there may be nothing she will do to ensure his security

“Alexei Anatolyevich’s death showed that it’s true that no one is safe,” she stated, referring to Navalny respectfully by his patronymic. “All the people who are currently in custody in pretrial detention centers and colonies — they’re closer to death than life. And every … healthy body has its limits. If things are constantly thrown at a person, they lose their will to live.”

On Monday night in central Moscow, Veronika, 42, an illustrator from the Russian capital, approached the Solovetsky Stone, a memorial for victims of the gulag, and positioned a bunch of scarlet carnations amid the snow, in reminiscence of Navalny.

“It is clear that he died in agony — and this terrifies me,” Veronika stated. “I know that there are a lot of other political prisoners now who are also being slowly killed in prison. And I understand that our flowers are not really going to help them.”