Russia Penitentiary Chief Vows Navalny Will Be Safe in Prison

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Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny will be safe in the prison camp where he’s being taken, the country’s top penitentiary official said, according to official news agencies.

“I guarantee that there is no threat to his health or life” in the facility, Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Prison Service, said Friday, according to state-run Tass and RIA Novosti.

Navalny was removed from his Moscow jail cell Thursday but there’s been no word of where he was taken. Kalashnikov didn’t name the prison, either, saying only, “he’s been taken where he should be now.” Prison authorities typically don’t notify lawyers or family members where inmates are being transferred until they arrive, sometimes after days in transit.

President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic lost an appeal Saturday over a court decision to convert a 2014 suspended sentence into two and a half years of incarceration for breaking his parole, which was the last obstacle keeping him from being sent to a prison outside the capital.

He will be sent to a medium-security facility, according to Eva Merkacheva, a member of a civic-oversight group for the prison system. State-run Tass news service quoted an unnamed source as saying Navalny would be put in quarantine for up to 15 days on arrival at the prison camp like other new inmates. Kalashnikov, the prison chief, said Navalny would be held “in normal conditions” and allowed to work at the facility if he wants to. In fact, Russian law requires prisoners to work.

Navalny received the sentence for failing to check in with the authorities while recovering in Germany from a near-fatal nerve agent attack that he and Western governments blamed on the Kremlin. Russian authorities deny any role in the poisoning.

Citing concerns about his safety in prison, the European Court of Human Rights last week called on Russia to release Navalny before his case is considered there. Russian officials rejected that request.

“That we don’t know where he is and what’s happening to him completely confirmed the level of that threat” to Navalny’s life, ally Leonid Volkov wrote in Twitter Thursday.

Navalny suffered a symbolic setback earlier this week, when Amnesty International rescinded his status as a ‘prisoner of conscience,’ citing anti-immigrant statements he made early in his career that the rights group said qualified as “advocacy of hatred.” His allies denounced the move, saying Amnesty had fallen victim to a campaign by pro-Kremlin forces. The group denied that.

“The poor timing of this internal decision has unintentionally distracted from the campaign for Navalny’s immediate release,” Amnesty said in a statement late Thursday.

Senior officials at the group also were targeted by Russian pranksters, who impersonated Volkov in a call after the decision, according to the Navalny ally and a video posted by the callers. Amnesty declined to comment on that episode.

Navalny’s arrest in mid-January when he returned to Russia provoked the biggest anti-Kremlin protests in years and was condemned by the European Union and the U.S., which are both considering new sanctions to punish Putin for his imprisonment. Authorities cracked down on the demonstrations last month, detaining more than 11,000 people and prosecuting key Navalny allies.

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