Amnesty International considers Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny as a prisoner of conscience. A decision taken a few months ago to withdraw that status is being reversed and the human rights organisation apologises.
“ Aleksei Navalny is not detained for any recognised crime, but for demanding the right to equal participation in public life for himself and his supporters, and for demanding that the government be free from corruption. These are matters of conscience and must be recognised as such.
Amnesty aroused international surprise when Navalnys recognition was cancelled in February. He was arrested by the authorities a month earlier on return to Russia, after being treated abroad after poisoning. A few days before Amnestys message was published, the judge sentenced him to 3.5 years in jail for fraud.
Reason for the adaptation were statements from Navalnys past, when he advocated a more nationalist policy. For example, 15 years ago he made discriminatory statements about people from Central Asia and walked on a nationalist march. Amnestys decision was widely measured in the Russian state media.
After an evaluation, Amnesty now speaks of a wrong decision, “which called into question intentions and motives at a critical moment”. The organization says it was an internal decision, “which we did not intend to make public.”
From now on, Amnesty will no longer consider past behaviour in the use of the term. “We recognize that someones opinions and behavior can change over time.”
Moreover, Amnesty underlines that a description as a prisoner of conscience does not mean supporting that persons views. In the case of Navalny, the organization explains that not its political program is weighted, but “the urgent need for his rights, including access to independent medical care, to be recognized”.
The Kremlins emphasis on the decision in February is, according to Amnesty, the height of hypocrisy for a state that has been involved for many years in torture, disappearances, oppression of political freedom and war crimes in Syria. There will therefore continue to be fighting for the opposition leader. “The Russian state condemns Aleksey Navalny to a slow death. That must be stopped immediately.”