In prison, Alexei Navalny criticizes ′information vacuum′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.01.2021
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In prison, Alexei Navalny criticizes 'information vacuum'

Tens of thousands of people across Russia have protested in support of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was arrested on January 17. DW spoke with his lawyer, who said Navalny is unaware of the show of support.

In this image taken from video released by Navalny Life YouTube channel, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks in a police station outside of Moscow on January 18

Navalny's lawyer said that apart from his legal team, no one is allowed to visit him in prison

Police had warned that any unauthorized demonstrations this weekend would be suppressed. Nevertheless, tens of thousands took to the streets across Russia on Saturday to defy President Vladimir Putin and demand the release of opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Riot police were deployed, and more than 2,500 people have been detained. 

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Russian police break up nationwide protests

Russia's most prominent opposition politician and Kremlin critic was arrested on his return from Germany on January 17. He has been placed into custody until February 15, and is currently in quarantine.

Authorities say his stay in Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a severe nerve-agent poisoning that he has blamed on the Kremlin, violated terms of a suspended sentence in a criminal conviction known as the Yves Rocher case.

In 2014, Alexei Navalny and his brother were convicted of fraud and money laundering in their dealings with this French company's Russian subsidiary. Navalny has denounced the convictions as politically motivated. The European Court of Human Rights concluded in 2017 that the men had not received a fair trial, describing the Russian court's ruling as arbitrary and unreasonable.

In late December 2020, new criminal proceedings were instigated against Navalny for the alleged embezzlement of donations to his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

DW spoke with Navalny's lawyer Olga Mikhailova on Friday, the day before the nationwide rallies on his behalf.

DW: When did you last see Alexei Navalny? What's his condition?

Olga Mikhailova:I last saw him yesterday [January 21 — Editor's note] in remand prison. He's completely normal. His only complaint is that he's in an information vacuum, because he doesn't know what's going on outside. He does have a TV, but it can only access a limited number of channels, and they don't report on what's really happening in the country. The conditions of his imprisonment — which have already been talked about a lot — are normal so far.

Olga Mikhailova wears a face mask outside a police station in Khimki outside Moscow

Navalny faces a possible prison sentence of 2 1/2 years, according to this lawyer Olga Mikhailova

Is Navalny in solitary confinement, or is he sharing a cell?

He's in a special section of the Moscow remand prison Matrosskaya Tishina. He's alone in his cell, and he has to quarantine for about two weeks. The cell is warm and clean. So the conditions are more or less OK.

Navalny was poisoned in Russia in August 2020. Does he need medical assistance?

He has essentially completed all the physiotherapy and other treatments. At the moment he doesn't require any special medical assistance. The only thing is that he has problems with his vision. That's why we're asking that he be examined by an ophthalmologist.

Navalny is facing a number of charges. Which of them might have the most serious consequences?

As there's a lot that may still happen, I don't want to speculate. At the next trial in the Yves Rocher case, they want to convert the suspended sentence of 3 1/2 years into a custodial sentence. They need to take into account that Alexei was under house arrest for almost a year on this charge. So he faces a possible prison sentence of 2 1/2 years.

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Is Navalny working with any foreign lawyers as well as with you?

In this case, foreign lawyers are not able to practice in the territory of the Russian Federation. He has two lawyers at the moment: me and Vadim Kobzev.

Does Navalny know that his supporters are currently being subjected to heavy intimidation, that many are being arrested?

I reported this to him and I also told him that, at the time of my visit, his video about "Putin's Palace" had more than 44 million views on YouTube. He was surprised and very happy about it.

Does the quarantine mean that Navalny can't be interrogated, and that the next steps in the investigation can't take place?

Nothing is taking place at the moment. He's just sitting in his cell. He isn't being taken away, and nobody comes to him — apart from the psychologist and the people who come to see prisoners in their first few days.

Is any information from outside reaching Navalny in prison?

He hasn't received a single letter. As far as I'm aware, this prison is no longer accepting letters, or none are being delivered to it. The letters that relatives sent him in the first few days after his arrest haven't reached him, either.

Police drag away supporters of Alexei Navalny

Police detained Navalny supporters at the airport upon his return to Russia on January 17

Will Navalny's relatives be able to visit Alexei once the quarantine period is over?

No, no one is allowed to visit him apart from a lawyer. Visits are generally banned during the pandemic. If at some point the pandemic regulations are lifted again, perhaps they will allow him to receive visits from relatives as well. At the moment, though, this is prohibited in all remand prisons in Moscow.

Olga Mikhailova is one of Alexei Navalny's two lawyers. She was with him on the plane when the opposition politician flew back from Berlin to Moscow on January 17 and was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport. She has represented Navalny on many occasions before the European Court of Human Rights.

Adapted from the Russian into German by Markian Ostaptschuk.

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