On October 11, the officials of a Russian prison in Vladimirskaya Oblast, which is located about 60 miles east of Moscow, designated the opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a “terrorist” and an “extremist” according to Reuters. He was given these designations after the same commission revoked his previous status as an “escape-risk,” a status which necessitated more tedious “accounting.”
Navalny explained the situation through an Instagram post that described how he was summoned before the largest prison commission he had ever seen. The commission voted unanimously in favor of assigning Navalny the new designations and repealing his status as an escape-risk. Navalny said that the “news is good” as it means he will no longer need to check in with the prison every two hours to confirm that he had not run away. Navalny has “counted that [he’s] said the phrase ‘Alexei Anatolyevich Navalny, born in 1976, illegally held on the territory of IK-2’ to a video recorder 1669 times” in order to complete these check-ins, which he says he is “terribly tired of.”
In the post, Navalny said how he was afraid that the new designations would mean he would be forced “to kiss portraits of Putin and learn by heart quotes from Medvedev, but this isn’t needed.” He says, “there is now a sign hanging over [his] bunk that [he is] a terrorist.” The change of status also means that Navalny will not require as many guard checks during the night, and those that do occur will not be as stringent.
According to ABC News, former inmates of Vladimiriskaya Oblast believed that Navalny would not be subject to physical torture when sent to the prison, which is known for its brutality, because of the international attention paid to his base. Instead, they believed he would be isolated and pressured mentally. If this new designation was intended to increase that pressure, Navalny’s post indicates that it had the opposite effect, with the post about the change maintaining a positive tone throughout.
Navalny was originally sentenced to several years in prison, but these charges were suspended and he was allowed parole. In 2020, he was the victim of a poisoning attack, which he accused President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating. President Putin denied this allegation and said “[i]f there was such a desire [to poison him], it would have been done,” according to ABC News. Following the poisoning, Navalny was taken to Germany to recover.
After Navalny recovered, he flew back to Russia where he was promptly arrested in the airport and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. This is the sentence that he is currently serving. Reuters explains that this sentence was commuted from an earlier sentence of three and a half years, as it was determined that his time spent under house arrest would count as time served. These sentences follow from charges of parole violations as a result of Navalny not reporting to prison officials while recovering in Germany, as was required from a previous charge of fraud in 2014 according to CBS News and ABC News. In late September of this year, another charge was brought against Navalny for creating an “extremist group” alongside various allies. This charge could see him serving an additional sentence of 10 years in prison if he is found guilty, Politico reports. Many of his allies either have left the country, been arrested, or are currently facing house arrest. Navalny and other members of the international community have alleged that these charges and sentences are politically motivated.