Amnesty International says it has decided to redesignate Aleksei Navalny as a “prisoner of conscience,” after the human rights watchdog earlier this year stopped referring to the jailed opposition politician as such over past comments he made that reached "the threshold of advocacy of hatred."
Navalny “has not been imprisoned for any recognizable crime, but for demanding the right to equal participation in public life for himself and his supporters, and for demanding a government that is free from corruption,” the London-based human rights group said in a statement on May 7.
“These are acts of conscience and should be recognized as such.”
Amnesty International announced in February it would stop referring to the Kremlin foe as a “prisoner of conscience” on the grounds that in the past he had made comments over his alleged advocacy of violence and discrimination and comments that included hate speech.
But the group said in its latest statement that the Russian government and its supporters used that decision to “further violate” Navalny’s rights.
As a result, Amnesty International launched a review of its approach to the use of the designation “prisoner of conscience” and decided as an interim step to “not exclude a person…solely based on their conduct in the past.”
“We recognize that an individual’s opinions and behavior may evolve over time. It is part of Amnesty’s mission to encourage people to positively embrace a human rights vision and to not suggest that they are forever trapped by their past conduct.”
The designation of an individual as “prisoner of conscience” doesn’t imply the endorsement of their views by Amnesty, it said.
By confirming Navalny’s status as a “prisoner of conscience,” the watchdog is “highlighting the urgent need for his rights, including access to independent medical care, to be recognized and acted upon by the Russian authorities,” according to the statement.
Navalny is serving a 2 1/2 year prison sentence on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up because of his political activity.
He recently ended a hunger strike that he had been holding to demand he be examined by his own doctors amid what he has described as a “deliberate campaign” by Russian prison officials to undermine his health.
The 44-year-old has been in custody since January, when he returned to Russia following weeks of medical treatment in Germany for a nerve-agent poisoning in August 2020 that he says was carried out by operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) at the behest of President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning.
His incarceration sparked numerous protests across Russia which were violently dispersed by police.
Navalny's anti-corruption organization has targeted many high-profile Russians, including high-ranking government officials.
In the course of his political career, he has also come under criticism for his association with ethnic Russian nationalists and for statements seen as racist and dangerously inflammatory.