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Navalny’s death chillingly reminds Russia’s political prisoners of risks

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MOSCOW — For the a whole bunch of political prisoners in Russia’s brutal penitentiary system, phrase of the demise of the nation’s most outstanding jailed dissident, Alexei Navalny, took days to reach — and carried a terrifying, if apparent, reminder: None of them are secure.

Information of Navalny’s sudden death on Feb. 16 in an Arctic penal colony, was barely disseminated on state TV and radio channels, sometimes the one supply of knowledge for prisoners. Letters from exterior often take days, typically weeks, to go by way of censors.

“For the primary time, I’m glad that the information took some time to get right here. It might have been higher if it didn’t come in any respect,” stated Andrei Pivovarov, a Russian opposition activist who’s serving a four-year sentence in Karelia in northern Russia after being arrested in 2021 on fees of working for an “undesirable group.”

“That is now not one other step towards the abyss,” Pivovarov stated, “however a flight into it, an acceleration.”

Since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities has cracked down mercilessly on political opponents and critics of the warfare, prompting many to flee into exile and sweeping others into jail, usually with exceedingly lengthy sentences. Some have been shut associates of Navalny, like Vladimir Kara-Murza, a democracy advocate and Washington Publish Opinions contributor, who was sentenced final 12 months to 25 years for treason.

Human rights group Memorial has recognized greater than 600 folks in Russia as political prisoners, which incorporates greater than 400 persecuted for his or her faith. According to OVD-Data, a watchdog which tracks arrests and detention, greater than 1,000 folks have been imprisoned in Russia on politically motivated fees. All are actually within the clutches of a regime that has proven no qualms about eliminating its perceived enemies.

Ilya Yashin, a veteran opposition activist and longtime collaborator of Navalny’s starting within the early 2000s once they have been members of the progressive Yabloko political get together, realized of his buddy’s sudden demise on Monday — three days after it occurred — from his lawyer who visited him.

“Inform me this isn’t true,” Yashin, in shock, initially pleaded with the lawyer, Mikhail Biryukov.

Biden meets widow and daughter as Russia says Navalny died of ‘natural causes’

In 2022, Yashin was sentenced to eight years for publishing studies about atrocities by the Russian navy in Bucha, Ukraine.

In a follow-up letter, Yashin wrote that “the ache and horror are insufferable.” He in contrast Navalny’s demise with that of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition chief who was shot and killed near the Kremlin in 2015. Yashin additionally acknowledged the actual hazard he faces every single day he stays imprisoned.

“Now each my associates are lifeless. I really feel a black vacancy inside,” Yashin wrote. “And, after all, I perceive my very own dangers. I’m behind bars, my life is in Putin’s fingers, and it’s in peril.”

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, his group and associates, have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin instantly of getting him murdered. President Biden and different leaders have stated they maintain Putin “accountable.”

Native authorities, nonetheless, stated Navalny died of “pure causes” and have refused to release Navalny’s physique to his mom, fueling accusations of a coverup. Lyudmila Navalnaya stated Thursday that Russian officers have been making an attempt to “blackmail” her into holding a personal funeral for her son, they usually threatened to let his physique decompose if she refused.

Jail situations in Russia are notoriously dangerous, and rights groups have documented pervasive use of torture.

Navalny’s household, his political group and Russian journalists reporting on the jail system, stated that jail officers had intentionally created “insufferable” situations for Navalny since his arrest in January 2021, when he returned to Moscow from Germany the place he was handled after being poisoned by Russian safety brokers.

In all, Navalny spent 295 days in a punishment cell — with authorities usually asserting that he breached minor jail guidelines. Inmates aren’t speculated to spend greater than 15 days in such harsh confinement, and the European Courtroom of Human Rights has recognized repeat placement in punishment cells as torture.

Navalny’s well being was broken by the poisoning assault, through which a military-grade nerve agent was laced in his underwear. He spent weeks in a coma and needed to relearn methods to stroll and eat. After being jailed, his health continued to deteriorate, his household and legal professionals stated. Within the years since, his group publicized a number of well being scares and repeated denial of remedy.

For many young Russians, dreams of democracy died with Alexei Navalny

Maxim Litavrin, a journalist for Mediazona, an unbiased Russian outlet protecting Russia’s jail system, described situations of a punishment cell as “horrible.” “We don’t know what killed Alexei Navalny, and we received’t discover out till an unbiased examination,” Litavrin stated, “however placing an individual in such situations for nearly a 12 months is homicide.”

As for common well being care in Russian prisons, Litavrin stated: “There may be virtually no drugs.”

Inmates usually have entry solely to antiseptic and over-the-counter painkillers — ibuprofen if they’re fortunate. Jail medical employees are poorly paid and sometimes poorly certified.

“Advanced ailments in colonies aren’t handled in any respect,” Litavrin stated. Over time, he added, the European Courtroom of Human Proper has been inundated with lawsuits by family of prisoners who died in Russian colonies as a result of lack of care.

A day earlier than Navalny’s demise, Ivan Zyryanov, a 43-year-old prisoner within the Trans-Baikal area, needed to be carried right into a court docket listening to after his legs stopped working — partly as a result of lack of ample medical care.

Alexei Gorinov, 62, a former native legislator in Moscow, was sentenced in July 2022 to seven years for denouncing the warfare in Ukraine. Gorinov suffers from a persistent illness, is lacking a part of a lung and has been positioned in a punishment cell no less than 5 instances, his legal professionals stated.

The legal professionals stated that he suffers from fevers and bronchitis, however jail authorities are denying him entry to a medical unit.

U.S. targets Russian oligarchs as it weighs response to Navalny’s death

After Navalny’s demise, households of political prisoners stated they’re extra frightened than ever.

“It’s lots scarier now,” stated Tatiana Balazeikina, whose son, Yegor Balazeikin, 17, is serving six years for terrorism after throwing a molotov cocktail at a navy registration workplace final 12 months to protest the warfare.

“We perceive that in the event that they didn’t save a well known determine like Navalny, then as for a bunch of convicts that the world doesn’t actually find out about — nobody will handle them in any respect,” Balazeikina stated.

Balazeikin suffers from a posh autoimmune illness, his mom stated, and based on the foundations of the juvenile detention middle, his mother and father can present drugs and take him for unbiased examinations. However Balazeikina stated that after a health care provider’s go to in August, her son was prescribed a remedy for ulcers, which he was by no means given. Final week, a health care provider stated the ulcers had worsened.

“For people who find themselves in jail, the accountability lies with the state for his or her well being and for his or her lives,” Balazeikina stated. “Neither mother and father, nor legal professionals, nor another family can management an individual’s keep behind bars in any approach.” She stated she worries continually for her son.

“If an individual dies in jail, it doesn’t matter for what causes,” Balazeikina stated, “then solely the state is guilty.”

Alexandra Popova, 30, a human rights activist and spouse of imprisoned poet Artyom Kamardin — who late final 12 months was sentenced to seven years for public readings of antiwar poetry — spoke of the ache of figuring out there’s nothing she will be able to do to ensure his security

“Alexei Anatolyevich’s demise confirmed that it’s true that nobody is secure,” she stated, referring to Navalny respectfully by his patronymic. “All of the people who find themselves presently in custody in pretrial detention facilities and colonies — they’re nearer to demise than life. And each … wholesome physique has its limits. If issues are continually thrown at an individual, they lose their will to reside.”

On Monday night in central Moscow, Veronika, 42, an illustrator from the Russian capital, approached the Solovetsky Stone, a memorial for victims of the gulag, and positioned a bunch of scarlet carnations amid the snow, in reminiscence of Navalny.

“It’s clear that he died in agony — and this terrifies me,” Veronika stated. “I do know that there are numerous different political prisoners now who’re additionally being slowly killed in jail. And I perceive that our flowers aren’t actually going to assist them.”

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