Tuesday, February 9, 2021 8:01 am
Detention centres in Russia have been stretched beyond capacity with thousands of protesters kept behind bars or hemmed in security trucks, for lack of space. They are held for sympathising with Alexei Nalvany, an activist turned prisoner, over his cruel fate in the hands of the authority, headed by 68-year-old Vladimir Putin.
In Moscow alone, about 1,200 persons were detained. According to Russia’s OVD-Info human rights monitors another 251were clamped in St Petersburg, the country’s second-largest city. Unconfirmed number of persons were involved in various smaller Russian communities. They were held without regards to social distancing and other protocols of the coronavirus pandemic.
Those that could not be detained for diplomatic finesse, were summarily dealt with. Kremlin ordered the expulsion of three diplomats. Those affected are one each from the German, Polish and Swedish delegations to the country. The diplomats were accused of participating in the protests.
It’s a clear message to the restless international community’s prying eyes and that Kremlin will not tolerate any opposition in its handling of the Nalvany challenge.
Nalvany, who had recently survived a poison attack was last Tuesday, 2nd January, 2021, sentenced to two years and eight months imprisonment by a Moscow court. The opposition politician returned from Germany, where he was treated after the poison attack to the waiting arms of security agents on 17th January.
He was subsequently charged with breaking the terms of a 2014 parole. He and his brother had in that year been convicted on a trumped up accusation of stealing about Five Hundred Thousand Dollar. The European Court of human rights described the procedure as unlawful. The sentence was suspended but Nalvany was required to regularly make appearance at the prison.
Nalvany’s trial generated commendable media and international interest.
Natalia Repnikova who sat in judgement over the case agreed to convert the suspended sentence to a real prison term. She ordered that the nearly nine months of Navalny’s house arrest be deducted from the sentence.
“Despite the preventive and explanatory measures taken with Navalny, he repeatedly failed to appear at the inspection for registration for unacceptable reasons,” Ms. Repnikova, said in her ruling, accepting the prosecution’s contention that Mr. Navalny did not fulfill the terms of his parole.
The activist maintained a dignified posture in the court room. Dressed in simple attire, he smiled often and made gestures at his wife who was among the audience. He maintained his trademark humour during the trial. For instance he repeatedly teased the prosecutor as ‘an honourable daughter of the regime.” When the trial judge requested for his current address, he replied: “Pretrial Detention Facility No. 1.”
But he did not miss stating the merits of his case. He explained that he did not break the terms of the suspended judgement until was poisoned and had to go abroad for treatment. He insisted on his innocence noting that he was behind bars because of “one man’s hatred and fear..I mortally offended him by surviving an attempt at my life he ordered.”
Even in jail, the activist is unbroken and has remained adamant as ever. On Thursday, he sent a message to his supporters not to relent until the country is free from a bunch of thieves. He said “iron doors slammed behind my back with a deafening sound, but I feel like a free man. Because I feel confident I’m right. Thanks to your support. Thanks to my family’s support.”
Born on 4th June 1976, Nalvany, politician, lawyer and social activist came to the limelight as a result of his constant confrontation with the powers that be in Russia. He is the leader of the Future Party of Russia, which advocates widespread reforms in the country.
His father’s occupation was in the military. The activist grew up in Obninsk, a town 100km south-west of Moscow. He studied law and graduated in 1998 at Moscow’s Friendship of the Peoples University. Later in 2010, he stayed a year in the United States as a Yale World Fellow.
He contested in the Moscow Mayoral election in 2013. In spite of state machinery, he was able to win 27 percent of the votes. His public activities has not declined since that time.
Novalny has laid several allegations of corruption against the President. Recently he was involved in circulating a video of a palace he claimed belong to Putin on youtube. He also claimed the president was complicit in his Novichok chemical nerve warfare agent used to poison him, an allegation he repeated in court.
“His main gripe with me is that he’ll go down in history as a poisoner,” Navalny told the court scornfully. We had Alexander the Liberator, Yaroslav the Wise, and we will have Vladimir the Underpants Poisoner.”
The Wall Street Journal describes Novalny as the man Putin fears most. So much is the fear that the President does not refer to his rival by name. Instead, he refers to him as “that gentleman” or “the Patient in Berlin.” The use of innuendo is mutual, though. The younger politician refers to the President as “grand-dad” or “thieving little man in a bunker.”
The political developments in Russia have attracted comments from world leaders. The United States President Joe Biden called for Navalny’s immediate release. “Mr. Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian constitution. He’s been targeted, targeted for exposing corruption. He should be released immediately and without condition.”
The German chancellor Angela Merkel called the Russian action “unjustified.” The President of France Emmanuel Macron also condemned Kremlin’ handling of the situation in strong terms.
So far, the comments have fallen on deaf ears. In fact, on Friday another charge of insulting a war hero was brought against the activist and more charges may follow.