Navalny’s team says he has disappeared into a Russian prison

  • Supporters say he has left the penal colony and his whereabouts are unknown
  • Transfers between prisons can take weeks in Russia
  • Aides are linking the timing to the launch of Putin’s re-election campaign

LONDON, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has been removed from a penal colony where he has been imprisoned since the middle of last year and his whereabouts are unknown, his associates said on Monday.

Navalny’s aides are preparing for his expected transfer to a stricter standard “special regime” colony in Russia’s prison system after he was sentenced to an additional 19 years on top of the 11-1/2 years he already had. Service.

The process of moving detainees by rail across Russia’s vast territory can take weeks, with lawyers and families unable to obtain information on their whereabouts and well-being until they reach their destination. It is unclear whether Navalny has already moved to a new prison.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmish said staff at the IK-6 facility in Melekovo, 235 km (145 miles) east of Moscow, told his lawyer, who was waiting outside, that the opposition leader was no longer among its inmates.

“We don’t know where he is now. He could be in any special regime colony, there are about 30 of them in Russia, all over Russia,” he told Reuters. “We will go to every colony and try to find him”.

The US expressed deep concern.

“He should be released immediately. He shouldn’t have been incarcerated in the first place,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

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Navalny’s passing comes at the start of a presidential campaign period in which Vladimir Putin confirmed on Friday that he would stand for another six-year term.

Yarmish said Navalny’s team is preparing to launch an “anti-Putin” campaign and will not stop trying to cover Navalny.

“Now he’s completely alone, he’s literally in the hands of those who once tried to kill him. We don’t know what they’ll do. That’s why it’s so important to talk about him and find him. As soon as possible,” she said.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from the IK-2 correctional penal colony in Pokro before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his prison sentence on May 17, 2022 in Moscow, Russia. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/ File photo Get license rights

“It’s about his life and his health and his safety.”

“0% coincidence and 100% direct political control from the Kremlin,” Navalny aide Leonid Volkov posted on X.

He added: “It’s no secret to Putin who his main opponent is in these ‘elections’. And he wants to make sure Navalny’s voice is not heard.”

The Kremlin and the Russian prison service did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Putin and his spokesman did not name Navalny in an effort to portray him as politically irrelevant. They say he is being treated like any other prisoner.

Navalny aide Lyubov Sobol told Reuters: “We are concerned about his health, we are trying to find out where he is now, but it is difficult to do.”

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Despite his imprisonment, Navalny has managed to launch scathing attacks on the Kremlin via social media through his lawyers, detailing his ordeal behind bars and condemning Putin for the war in Ukraine. But his isolation deepened in October when three of his lawyers were arrested on suspicion of “extremist” activity.

The 47-year-old is one of Russia’s most popular opposition figures. Over the years, he has branded Putin and the ruling elite a gang of “crooks and thieves,” expounding on them in slick videos that have been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

He won praise around the world for his voluntary return to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where Western laboratory tests showed he had tried to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia. He was immediately arrested upon arrival.

Navalny says the many charges against him – from fraud and contempt of court to “extremist” activities – were all concocted to silence his attacks on Putin.

Russian officials view Navalny and his supporters as extremists, with ties to Western intelligence agencies aimed at destabilizing Russia. Putin has warned the West that meddling in Russia would be considered an act of aggression.

Reporting by Mark Trevelyan in London and Andreas Saitas in Vilnius Editing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Chief writer on Russia and the CIS. He has worked as a correspondent from 40+ countries in London, Wellington, Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin. The 1990s included the breakup of the Soviet Union. Defense correspondent from 2003 to 2008. Speaks French, Russian and (rusty) German and Polish.

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