Alexei Navalny, the incarcerated political rival of Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin, alleged on May 30, 2023, that he was forced to listen to pro-war and anti-Semitic songs as part of “re-education” efforts at the IK-6 prison, where he is serving a nine-year sentence for promoting “extremism” with his criticisms of Putin.
Navalny complained that prison administration conducted “educational work” five times daily with prisoners – which actually consisted of videos on preventing “extremism” and patriotic music. Some anti-Semitic songs suggested that celebrating the Jewish holiday Purim is a sign of an impending war against Russia, he said.
“People are really being brainwashed [to think] that those who celebrate Purim are villains plotting terrible things against Russia,” Navalny said.
Another frequently played song glorified the Kremlin’s year-old invasion of Ukraine and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu – omitting any mention that the invasion has stalled, for which Shoigu has been harshly criticized. A June 2023 rebellion by mercenary soldiers with the Wagner Group – which has suffered heavy losses on the front lines in Ukraine – was staged in part to demand Shoigu’s ouster, founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said. But he blinked and abandoned the effort, exiling himself in Belarus before he died in a mysterious plane crash in August 2023.
A prominent political activist, Navalny saw his groups labeled “extremist” organizations by the Kremlin in 2021, paving the way for his sentence on charges he called politically motivated. Government authorities have continued to open new criminal cases against him, with fresh terrorism charges that carry a 30-year prison term.
Navalny’s ordeal began in January 2021 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, after a near-fatal poisoning with the banned nerve agent Novichok. For that Navalny fingered Putin, a claim that the Kremlin denied. Despite his imprisonment and continued opposition to the government, Navalny remains a prominent figure in Russia’s political landscape.
On July 24, 2023, Russia handed another nine-year prison sentence for participating in an “extremist community” to Navalny associate Vadim Ostanin. He was arrested in December 2021 and detained in Moscow before a transfer to Barnaul in Siberia, where he faced trial. Via the Telegram social media site, Navalny’s team said Ostanin had been running the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s local headquarters in Barnaul, engaged solely in “legal political work.”
In a letter published by Navalny’s team, Ostanin described harrowing conditions in his detention: “Upon my arrival in Barnaul from Moscow, without explanation, I was placed in a solitary cell, about six square meters, in a basement with a window covered with debris,” he said, adding there were also rats, ants and spiders, and the cell was flooded with ankle-deep water.
Another Navalny campaigner, Liliya Chanysheva, was sentenced to seven and a half years for “extremism” in June 2023.
Sources: al-Jazeera, Moscow Times
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