The lawyers of Aleksei Navalny reported having lost contact with the Russian opposition leader jailed since 2021: he is no longer in penal colony number 6 of Melekhovo, in the Vladimir region near Moscow, and at the moment the prison authorities have not clarified where he was transferred.
For six days, Navalny’s lawyers and collaborators had raised doubts about the fate of the politician who had not appeared, not even via video link, in the latest hearings of a trial against him. The employees of the penal colony had explained that they had had “problems with the electricity”. Only today, a lawyer spoke to those in charge of prison number 6, who admitted that Navalny is no longer there and is not even listed in the other penal colony in the Vladimir region, number 7. «He is no longer on their lists » and «we don’t know where he is», Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on X. Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in prison in August for “extremism” and was due to be transferred to a harsher prison regime. Transfers from one penal colony to another in Russia often require several weeks of train travel with stops, during which relatives of prisoners are not informed. The “special regime” colonies – to which Navalny is destined – are the detention institutions with the harshest conditions in the Russian prison system; they are often found in very isolated regions.
Navalny was already serving an 11 and a half year sentence for fraud and other charges which he always denied. Human rights defenders believe his legal proceedings are “politically motivated” to stifle his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny has represented one of the most serious threats to Putin’s legitimacy during his more than 20 years in power: he has organized anti-government street protests and used his blog and social media to denounce corruption at the highest levels of the Russian state; he nearly unseated the pro-Kremlin candidate in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election.
The opponent survived a poisoning attempt in 2020, which he blamed directly on Moscow’s secret services. Putin then sarcastically declared that if the FSB had wanted to kill Navalny, he “would have finished” the job. The opponent was hospitalized in Germany for treatment and convalescence, but upon his return to Russia in January 2021 he was arrested at Moscow airport, accused of violating the terms of probation relating to a case of fraud initiated against him in 2013. From prison he campaigned against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and attempted to mobilize civil society against the war. But according to his right-hand man now in exile, Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s disappearance must be linked to the March 2024 presidential elections in Russia, for which Putin has just announced that he intends to run again. The opponent and his team had launched the “Russia without Putin” campaign, inviting Russians to vote for everyone except the current head of the Kremlin. «Putin wants to make sure that Navalny’s voice is not heard», Volkov denounced on X, «this means that everyone should become Navalny’s voice».