“They refuse to say where he was transferred”
- Russia Maria Pevchij: “Something sudden will shake Putin’s regime, our job is to prevent it from being rebuilt”
The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has disappeared in the tangle of the Russian prison system. He is no longer in prison number 6 in the village of Melejovo, Vladimir region. There are no clues to his whereabouts and they haven’t heard from him for almost a week.
The imprisoned Russian dissident’s team has raised the alarm: they claim that Neither they nor their lawyers have heard from them in six days. Last week they refused to allow a lawyer to visit him in the neighborhood.
Navalny, who fulfills a sentence of 19 years accused of extremism, was due to appear in court this Monday via videoconference, but his intervention was cancelled. Prison officials alleged electricity problems. Later, it was reported that he was no longer there. “They refuse to say where he was transferred”denounces Navalny’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh.
Navalny is pending transfer to a “special regime” prison, the most severe level of the Russian prison system, after he was sentenced in August to another 19 years in prison, in addition to the 11 and a half he has already served. According to Yarmysh, in recent days lawyers have also not been able to access Navalny.
The process of transferring prisoners by rail in Russia can take weeks. It is common for relatives and family members to not receive information about their whereabouts and state of health until the prisoner reaches his or her destination. The size of the country, combined with the location of penal colonies on the periphery, means that prisoners face journeys of thousands of kilometers.
Transfers typically last a month or more, with prisoners transported in specially designed vans and train cars, “where overcrowded conditions are often so bad that they amount to torture and other ill-treatment,” according to a report by Heather McGill, researcher who in 2017 carried out a study for Amnesty International.
The only legal obligation of the Russian prison authorities towards relatives or legal representatives regarding the whereabouts of the inmate is a regulation that requires informing a family member within 10 days of the inmate’s arrival to the new penitentiary institution. That is why it may take days or weeks until Navalny’s relatives and collaborators know where he is and in what condition. Sometimes trips last a month or more, and prison authorities may take a while to send notification. The uncertainty in some cases lasts for months.
The presidential campaign
During the day on Monday, the staff of the IK-6 prison in Melejovo (235 kilometers east of Moscow) told Navalny’s lawyer that the dissident is no longer among their inmates. “Where they have taken him is something they refuse to say,” Navalny’s spokeswoman reported on social media. Navalny’s ‘disappearance’ match with the beginning of campaign period for the Russian presidential electionsa call in which Vladimir Putin confirmed on Friday that he will run for another six-year term.
Navalny’s advisor, Leonid Volkov, published on social networks that the moment chosen to make Navalny disappear is “0% coincidence and 100% due to direct political control by the Kremlin,” because “Putin wants to make sure that he is not listen to Navalny’s voice.”
The Russian authorities, who for years ignored him trying to minimize his importance, decided to put him back in prison for corruption in 2021 and now present him — both to him and his followers — as a dangerous extremist with links to the intelligence services. Westerners who are trying to destabilize Russia.
Navalny and his entourage defend that the numerous charges against him, from fraud and contempt of court to the string of accusations of “extremist” activities, were all fabricated to silence their criticism of Putin.
In Russia there is no concept of “prisoner rapprochement.” Moscow abolished exile as a punishment in 1992, but the idea that convicts should be sent as far away as possible as a form of punishment remains entrenched in the prison system. Prisoners who have committed especially serious crimes can also be sent even further away and Navalny has been identified by the Putin regime as an enemy of the system.