Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny found in a brutal Arctic jail weeks after disappearance

The most prominent foe of Russian president Vladimir Putin has been located at a prison colony above the Arctic Circle

Tara Cobham
Tuesday 26 December 2023 03:21 GMT
The man who took on Putin: Who is Alexei Navalny?

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been found weeks after he disappeared, his associates said on Monday.

Mr Navalny, the most prominent foe of Russian president Vladimir Putin, has been discovered at a prison colony above the Arctic Circle nearly three weeks after contact with him was lost, his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said on X, formerly Twitter.

Mr Navalny is serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism. He was previously imprisoned in the Vladimir region of central Russia, about 230km (140 miles) east of Moscow, but his lawyers said they had not been able to reach him since 6 December.

Alexei Navalny has been in prison since returning to Russia in 2021 (Getty)

Ms Yarmysh said he had been located in a prison colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region, about 1,900km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow. The region is notorious for its long and severe winters; the town is near Vorkuta, whose coal mines were among the harshest within the Soviet Gulag prison camp system.

“It is almost impossible to get to this colony; it is almost impossible to even send letters there. This is the highest possible level of isolation from the world,” Mr Navalny’s chief strategist, Leonid Volkov, said on X.

Alexei Navalny is the most prominent foe of Russian president Vladimir Putin (AP)

Transfers within Russia’s prison system are shrouded in secrecy, and inmates can disappear from contact for several weeks. Mr Navalny’s team was particularly alarmed when he could not be found, because he had been ill and was reportedly being denied food and kept in an unventilated cell.

Supporters believed he was being deliberately hidden after Mr Putin announced his intention to stand in Russia’s forthcoming presidential election, which will take place in March 2024. While Mr Putin’s re-election is all but certain, given his overwhelming control over the country’s political scene and a widening crackdown on dissent, Mr Navalny’s supporters and other critics hope to use the campaign to erode public support for the Russian leader and his military action in Ukraine.

Protesters show their support for Navalny on his 47th birthday earlier this year outside the Russian embassy in London (AFP via Getty)

Mr Navalny has been behind bars in Russia since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recuperating after being poisoned with a nerve agent – an incident he blamed on the Kremlin. Before his arrest, he campaigned against official corruption and organised major anti-Kremlin protests. He has since been sentenced to three prison terms, and spent months in isolation in Penal Colony No 6 for alleged minor infractions.

Mr Navalny has rejected all charges against him, describing them as politically motivated.

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