Supporters of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is serving a 19-year prison sentence, said on Monday that they have been trying to contact him to no avail for about a week and do not know his whereabouts.
On Friday and then Monday, his lawyers went to “two penal colonies in the Vladimir region (east of Moscow, editor’s note) where Alexei Navalny could be,” but they learned “that he was not there,” said the lawyers’ spokeswoman, Kira Iarmysh.
One of these prisons indicated that the oppositionist was “no longer listed in their records,” refusing to say “where he was transferred,” as she wrote on the X website (formerly Twitter).
“We still don’t know where Alexei is,” she said. Shortly before that, she noted that it had been “six days” since her team had heard from him.
In particular, he missed the court session in which he was scheduled to appear via videoconference, an absence justified by a power outage according to prison authorities, Kira Iarmysh added.
“They are making fun of us,” she shouted.
Washington responded by saying it was “deeply concerned” by the lack of information regarding Mr Navalny’s whereabouts, and again called for his immediate release.
“He should not have been imprisoned in the first place,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, noting that US authorities were seeking to learn more.
Vote against Putin
Alexei Navalny, who had been detained until now in the Vladimir region, should, according to his new 19-year prison sentence for “extremism”, handed down in August, be transferred to a “special regime” penal colony.
Transfers from one penal colony to another in Russia often took several weeks of train travel in stages, without hearing from relatives of the detainees during this period.
“Special regime” colonies, or institutions with the harshest detention conditions in the Russian prison system, are often located in very isolated areas.
Alexei Navalny, 47, was arrested in January 2021 and has been alternately housed in solitary confinement with fairly strict detention conditions for almost three years.
In early December, Russian authorities brought new charges of “sabotage” against the charismatic anti-corruption activist, which could add another three years of detention to his sentence.
The opponent, who communicates mainly through letters he sends to his lawyer and posts on the line, said sarcastically: “Never before has a detainee who was placed in solitary confinement for more than a year had such a rich social and political life.”
Mr. Navalny’s team launched a social media campaign last week calling on Russians to vote against Vladimir Putin in the next presidential election scheduled for mid-March 2024.
“We encourage everyone to use the 100 days before voting to campaign against Putin and his power,” Mr. Navalny’s X account said on Thursday.
Alexei Navalny narrowly escaped death when he was poisoned in August 2020, and spent several months convalescing in Germany.
Russia has been facing increasing repression of critical voices for several years, which accelerated dramatically after the Russian attack on Ukraine began in February 2022.
Almost all major opponents have been imprisoned or driven into exile, and thousands of ordinary Russians have been put on trial for expressing their disapproval with the Kremlin, including on social media.