Navalny in July 2020 (Photo: Flickr)
Amid high Russian-Ukraine tensions, dominating international media, Alexei Navalny faces new court proceedings inside the penal colony where he is held since January 2021. Navalny is charged with embezzlement of $4.7 million in donations to his organization and contempt of court and could get up to 15 years added to his current sentence.
The trial takes place behind closed doors in Pokrov, 100km east of Moscow. It has been unclear why it takes place in prison, preventing witnesses, journalists or Navalny’s legal team to attend the hearing. According to Amnesty International, this is a clear violation of international human rights law and Navalny’s right to a fair trial. After a fierce protest, Navalny’s wife did manage to attend.
Russia’s crackdown on Navalny
Navalny is already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for violating his parole terms, after he flew to Germany to recover from an almost lethal poison attack. The European Court of Human Rights described it as ‘’arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable’’. During his time in maximum security Lefortovsky Prison, Russian authorities marked him and his organization as extremist, banning it altogether. The crackdown on Navalny’s organization is widely seen as a new low in Putin’s administration on what is left of the Russian opposition.
A wider pattern of domestic political struggle
As Putin’s administration is preparing for the important 2024 presidential elections, dissenting voices are increasingly silenced. In mid-January, Zarema Musayeva, the mother of Abubakar Yangulbayev, was forcefully detained in Nizhny Novgorod. Yangulbayev, who is in exile, is a well-known civil activist and a former lawyer of the Committee against Torture. It all relates to Chechnya, where the former warlord – and close Putin ally – Ramzan Kadyrov violently suppresses the regional opposition. As a reaction to the public outcry on the arrest of Musayeva, Chechen Duma representative Adam Delimkhanov said in an Instagram post that ‘‘we will rip off your heads, we will kill you’’. Kadyrov has used similar terms in squashing regional dissent – as tens of thousands attended a rare demonstration in Grozny, Chechen’s capital. For the time being, the Kremlin remains silent over the Chechnian unrest – as domestic stability remains Putin's prime concern.
The public eye is currently fixed on the intentions of Putin and his administration regarding Ukraine. As a sign of de-escalation, the Russian defense ministry has communicated that several of his forces on the Ukrainian border have retreated. Meanwhile, the Russian Duma has recognized the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk republics. However, when the biggest fears of war are gone, it is crucial that attention remains on the cases of Navalny, Musayeva, and others. With the complete removal of oppositional forces in Russia, its people – and its neighbors – will remain at the mercy of its capricious leader.