Amnesty International removes Kremlin critic Navalny over “prisoner of conscience” status

Amnesty International no longer believes that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is imprisoned as a “prisoner of conscience” because of previous comments he made that qualify him as an advocate of hatred, the group said.

However, Amnesty International still believes that Navalny should be released from prison, that he has not committed any crime and that he should be persecuted for his campaign and harsh criticism of President Vladimir Putin and his government.

The 44-year-old Russian opposition politician flew to Germany in August last year to recover from an almost deadly poisoning in Siberia with what many Western countries said was a nerve agent.

He was arrested when he returned to Russia last month and sentenced to prison for violating conditions he called trumped up. He will spend just over two and a half years behind bars. The West has demanded that he be released Russia says it is interfering.

“Amnesty International made an internal decision to stop referring to … Navalny as a prisoner of conscience in relation to comments he made earlier,” the group said in a statement sent to Reuters on Wednesday.

“Some of these comments, which Navalny has not publicly condemned, reach the threshold of advocating hatred, and this goes against Amnesty’s definition of a prisoner of conscience,” it added.

Amnesty, which named Navalny a “prisoner of conscience” on January 17 after his arrest, did not specify which comments it referred to, saying it was not aware of similar statements from him in recent years.

Navalny, which has launched the following campaign against official corruption, has been criticized for earlier nationalist statements against illegal immigration and for participating in an annual nationalist march several years ago.

In a video from 2007, he demanded the expulsion of immigrants to prevent the emergence of right-wing violence. “We have the right to be (ethnic) Russians in Russia. And we will defend that right, he said in the video.

Navalny could not be reached for comment because he was in jail.

His allies protested against Amnesty on Twitter.

Alexander Golovach, a lawyer for Navalny’s FBK anti-corruption group, said he was resigning from a previous “prisoner of conscience” that Amnesty gave him in 2018 to protest.

Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally, said: “The procedure for granting and revoking Amnesty International status has proved extremely shameful.”