Amnesty apologises to Alexei Navalny over ‘prisoner of conscience’ status

Amnesty International has apologised to Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and reversed a decision to stop calling him a “prisoner of conscience”. The human rights organisation took the decision earlier this year after concerns were raised about past comments he made.

In a statement, Amnesty called for Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional release from prison”. Mr Navalny is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic. He was sent to a penal colony in February after a court ruled he had broken the terms of a suspended jail term on embezzlement charges. Mr Navalny nearly died in August 2020 when he was poisoned with Novichock. The 44-year-old only returned to Russia in January following treatment abroad for a near-fatal nerve agent attack. He accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin denies. Amnesty announced on February 24 that it would stop referring to Navalny as a prisoner of conscience on the grounds that in the past he had made comments that qualified as advocacy of hatred. “Following careful evaluation Amnesty International has decided to re-designate Alexei Navalny as a ‘Prisoner of Conscience,” it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Amnesty said the Russian government and its supporters had used the February 24 decision to further violate the rights of Navalny, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin. The 44-year-old Russian opposition politician was arrested in January and sentenced to jail for parole violations he called trumped up.