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Russian Opposition Leader Dies in Prison

Aleksei Navalny, 47, a Russian attorney who led opposition to Pres. Vladmir Putin, died on February 16, 2024, in a penal colony inside the Arctic Circle. The country’s Federal Prison Service said he collapsed after a walk, just a day after appearing healthy, though gaunt, in a video court hearing.

Navalny led counter demonstrations after Putin’s March 2012 election, earning a brief jail term. His candidacy for Moscow mayor that spring was interrupted by a conviction for embezzling funds from state-­owned timber company Kirovies. He was sentenced to a five-­year prison term, but released on bail to resume his mayoral campaign, which by then had lost momentum, and he polled a distant second in voting. The sentence was suspended in October 2013, a month after the election.

Over the next three years, Navalny’s attempts to form several political parties were denied by the country’s Ministry of Justice. Meanwhile he was convicted in 2014 of embezzling funds from the Russian branch of French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher and given a probated sentence. The firm won a judgment from Navalny in 2015, and Kirovies then wiped out his bank account with a successful 2016 suit to recover its embezzled funds, in what Novalny called a “drain-­dry strategy.”

The country’s Supreme Court tossed his Kirovies conviction in 2016, but the trial court quickly found him guilty once again, handing down the same five-­year suspended sentence. Of little help was a 2017 decision by the European Court of Human Rights that his convictions in both cases were “arbitrary and unfair.”

Ramping up a challenge to Putin for the presidency that same year, Navalny was attacked with a chemical agent, suffering facial burns and significant vision loss in his right eye. He was then barred from the ballot in December 2017, and Putin cruised to reelection the next year.

Companies that Navalny accused of benefitting from government corruption then won more monetary judgments against him in 2018 and 2019. The following year, he became sick on a flight and was hospitalized; when airlifted to a German hospital, it was determined he had been poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent.

Navalny returned to Russia in January 2021 and was imprisoned for violating probation in the Yves Rocher conviction. Another nine years was added to his term in 2022 for contempt and embezzlement, after what Amnesty International called a “sham trial.” An August 2023 conviction added 19 more years for “extremism.”

Supporters then lost contact with Navalny until December 2023, when he turned up in the IK3 “Polar Wolf” prison camp. Recent releasees told the New York Times that the prison is “devised to break the human spirit, by making survival depend on total and unconditional obedience to the will of guards.”

Navalny leaves behind a wife and two children.  


Sources: New York Times, Russia Today

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