Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being moved to a new prison in another part of the country and his arrival there will be disclosed in line with the law, Russia’s prison service was cited as saying on Friday.
Navalny’s allies, who had been preparing for his expected transfer to a “special regime” colony, the harshest grade in Russia’s prison system, say he has not been seen by his lawyers since Dec. 6 and have raised the alarm about his whereabouts.
The process of moving prisoners by rail across the world’s largest country can take weeks, with lawyers and family unable to obtain information about their location and well-being until they reach their destination.
Sota.vision, an online Russian-language news outlet which does a lot of court reporting, said a note on Navalny from the prison service in the Vladimir region, where Navalny was being held in a penal colony 235 km (145 miles) east of Moscow, had been read out at a court session on Friday.
Sota.vision, whose own founder and editor-in-chief have been designated “foreign agents” by the authorities, cited the note as saying:
“Alexei Navalny left the Federal Penitentiary Institution IK-6 in the Vladimir region for a correctional facility located outside the Vladimir region, in accordance with the Moscow City Court verdict of 4 August 2023.”
His arrival at the new facility, which was not named in the note, would be disclosed within the framework of current legislation, the note said.
Navalny, a former lawyer who rose to prominence by lampooning President Vladimir Putin’s elite and alleging vast corruption, was sentenced in August to an additional 19 years in prison on top of 11-1/2 years he was already serving.
“Where he was taken is not known,” Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said, adding that lawyers had been told that he left the Vladimir region on Dec. 11.
“Let me remind you that the lawyers have not seen Alexei since December 6. Why they were not allowed to meet with him, if Alexei was still in IK-6, we do not know.”
Navalny earned admiration from Russia’s disparate opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent.
Navalny says he was poisoned in Siberia in August 2020. The Kremlin denied trying to kill him and said there was no evidence he was poisoned with a nerve agent.
His supporters cast him as a Russian version of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela who will one day walk free from jail to lead his country.
But Russian authorities view him and his supporters as extremists with links to the CIA intelligence agency who are seeking to destabilise Russia. They have outlawed his movement, forcing many of his followers to flee abroad.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday that Washington was deeply concerned about Navalny’s wellbeing and had reminded the Russian authorities that they were responsible for what happened to him.
The Kremlin, which said it did not track the movements of individual prisoners, told Miller and his colleagues to mind their own business.
When asked on Friday if the Kremlin had any information about what was happening to Navalny, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “No. I repeat again: we do not have the capacity, or right, or desire, to track the fates of those prisoners who are serving sentences by order of a court.”