Two top UN officials said Russia is to blame for the near-fatal poisoning of the prominent Kremlin critic. The human rights experts said an international investigation should be carried out as "a matter of urgency."
The probe into Navalny's poisoning is "especially critical'' now that he is in prison, UN experts said
Two United Nations rights experts on Monday urged an international investigation into the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and called for his "immediate release" from prison.
The assessment came from Agnes Callamard, the Special UN Rapporteur on extrajudicial or arbitrary executions and Irene Khan, the Special UN Rapporteur on the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
In a joint statement, the experts said Navalny's poisoning was meant to "send a clear, sinister warning that this would be the fate of anyone who would criticize and oppose the government."
"Given the inadequate response of the domestic authorities, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, and the apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings, we believe that an international investigation should be carried out as a matter of urgency in order to establish the facts and clarify all the circumstances concerning Mr. Navalny's poisoning," the two UN officials said in the statement.
Russian authorities have denied any involvement in the poisoning of the Kremlin critic.
Although Russian authorities have denied any involvement, the UN experts said the Kremlin was to blame for the attempt on Navalny's life.
"It is our conclusion that Russia is responsible for the attempted poisoning of Mr Navalny," Callamard said at a press conference.
The UN experts emphasized that an investigation into Navalny's poisoning is "especially critical'' now that he is in prison.They warned Moscow that it's "responsible for the care and protection of Mr. Navalny in prison and that it shall be held responsible for any harm that may befall him."
Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin's most prominent opponent, fell ill on August 20 during a domestic flight in Russia. Two days later, he was flown to Berlin for treatment while still in a coma.
After spending months recovering in Germany, he was arrested on January 17 upon returning to Russia.
Tests carried out by the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that he was exposed to a Novichok nerve agent. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden have also confirmed the Soviet-era agent.
In December, Callamard and Khan said that "the availability of Novichok and the expertise required in handling it and in developing a novel form such as that found in Mr. Navalny's samples could only be found within and amongst state actors.''
They stressed that Navalny "was under intensive government surveillance at the time of the attempted killing, making it unlikely that any third party could have administered such a banned chemical without the knowledge of the Russian authorities."
In response to the detention of Navalny, European Union (EU) member states on Monday approved sanctionsto be imposed on four senior Russian justice and law enforcement officials, according to French news agency AFP.
The sanctions are set to be made public on Tuesday.
Citing two anonymous diplomatic sources, AFP reported that the targeted Russians said to be involved in Navalny's detainment are: Alexander Kalashnikov, federal prisons administrator; Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of Russia; Igor Krasnov, prosecutor general; and Viktor Zolotov, director of the National Guard.
The four would be the first individuals to be targeted under the bloc's new human rights sanctions strategy, which came into effect in December. They will be barred from travelling to the EU and any assets held there will be frozen.
mvb/rs (AFP, dpa, AP)