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Why did the Russian opposition leader become the thorn in the Putin government?

28 Jan

Why did the Russian opposition leader become the thorn in the Putin government?

Aleksei Navalny is a Russian opposition leader and politician that actively advocates against corruption in Russia and Vladimir Putin’s government. He established the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to expose corruption among Russia’s top officials and politicians. His ambition and effort in combatting corruption earns him a nomination for Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, but Navalny was targeted by the authorities on multiple occasions.

Navalny appeared on the government’s radar when he started organizing demonstrations and advocating reforms. Threatened by his influence, the government has resorted to various means to suppress him. He was once charged of embezzlement to bar him from running in future elections. Navalny also accused the government of poisoning him with Novichok, a lethal nerve agent. These incidents have garnered the attention of the international community over his safety and human rights conditions.

“Navalny’s arrest is further evidence that Russian authorities are seeking to silence him. His detention only highlights the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels.” Said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director. She also urges immediate and unconditional release of Navalny and his supporters.

Politically motivated trials

Navalny tried to run for President of Russia during the 2018 election but was barred due to criminal convictions. He received two suspended sentences for embezzlement in two cases, both are widely considered to be politically motivated.

In the first case, Navalny was placed under house arrest for several months while he was being investigated on suspicion of embezzlement in July 2014. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia had violated Navalny’s rights due to “politically motivated” charges and ordered Russia to pay out hefty compensation to Navalny.

In the second case, Navalny and his brother Oleg were convicted on charges of embezzling in December 2017. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the ECHR found Russia responsible for violating Navalny’s rights over numerous “unlawful and arbitrary” arrests and detention and his right to a fair trial.

Poisoning

On 20 August 2020, Navalny fell seriously ill while on board a domestic flight from the town of Tomsk to Moscow. A plane was then sent from Germany to evacuate Navalny from Russia for treatment in Berlin. On 2 September, the German government reported that Navalny had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent. It was later revealed that traces of the nerve agent were detected on an empty water bottle from Navalny’s hotel room in Tomsk, suggesting that he was possibly poisoned before leaving the hotel. While no one was charged, Navalny accused President Putin for the attack. Russian prosecutors asserted there was no need for further investigation as there was no sign of a committed crime. A special rapporteur on the poisoning of Navalny was later established by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to further investigate the case.

Current situation

Navalny continues to prove his outspokenness towards the regime through his return to Russia. Minutes after he arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, he was arrested and detained in the police station. The government chose to bring a judge to the police station to rule on his detention on the following day. No independent media or member of the public was present to witness this farcical “hearing”, but to give the illusion of a transparent process, the “courtroom” was packed with representatives of the pro-government press.

Amnesty International considers Navalny as a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional release as he has the rights to peaceful political activism and free speech; and of all of his supporters and journalists that were detained in Moscow Vnukovo Airport, as they were just rightfully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

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