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Russia: UN human rights office ‘appalled’ at death of Navalny in prison

Alexei Navalny appears in court in Moscow on 20 February 2021.
© Evgeny Feldman
Alexei Navalny appears in court in Moscow on 20 February 2021.

Russia: UN human rights office ‘appalled’ at death of Navalny in prison

Human Rights

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) on Friday said it was “appalled” over the death announced by Russian authorities of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison, calling for an impartial and transparent independent investigation.

Mr. Navalny, 47, had lost consciousness and could not be revived, according to media reports.

“If someone dies in the custody of the State, the presumption is that the State is responsible – a responsibility that can only be rebutted through an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body,” said OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell, calling on Russia “to ensure such a credible investigation is carried out”.

Calls for protection

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Any State has a heightened duty to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their liberty, the UN rights office said.

Ms. Throssell also called on Russia to end its persecution of opposition politicians, human rights defenders and journalists, among others.

“All those who are held or have been sentenced to various prison terms in relation to the legitimate exercise of their rights, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, should be immediately released and all charges against them dropped,” Ms. Throssell said.

The Russian authorities – like all States – have a duty under international law to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their liberty. A comprehensive and independent investigation, including a full autopsy must be carried out as a matter of urgency.

Navalny faced multiple charges

Mr. Navalny was serving several sentences, including fresh charges of extremism announced in August, following his arrest in 2021.

OHCHR had “repeatedly raised serious concerns relating to the charges against Navalny and his repeated detention which appeared to be arbitrary”, Ms. Throssell said.

Last August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk highlighted that the latest 19-year sentence raised questions about judicial harassment and instrumentalization of the court system for political purposes in Russia and called for Mr. Navalny’s release, the spokesperson said.

Disappeared in December

Mariana Katzarova, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia, issued an alert in December voicing concern over the enforced disappearance of Mr. Navalny, whose whereabouts and wellbeing were unknown after more than 10 days.

In late December, Mr. Navalny was transferred to the prison where he has reportedly died.

A demonstration in support of Alexsei Navalny in London, UK. (file)
Unsplash/Liza Pooor
A demonstration in support of Alexsei Navalny in London, UK. (file)

'Bleak day for rule of law'

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Alice Edwards said that several UN independent experts, including herself, privately and publicly urged the Russian Government to end the punitive conditions in which Mr. Navalny was held.

She said they had called for an investigation into credible allegations of torture against Mr. Navalny and told the authorities of the essential need for him to receive medical treatment, especially following his alleged poisoning in 2020, she said.

“That our appeals to the Kremlin were ignored so blatantly and with such disregard for human life is a tragedy for Mr. Navalny, his family and supporters,” she said. “It is also a bleak day for the rule of law, free expression and human rights.”

Long-time critic

Since the early 2000s, he has been a vocal anti-corruption activist and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, leading protests and garnering support.

In 2020, Mr. Navalny was hospitalized for injuries sustained from a poisoning that involved Novichok, a nerve agent developed by Russia during the cold war.

The media reported that on Thursday, Mr. Navalny had appeared in court via video. News reports also noted that Mr. Navalny’s spokesperson was asking for confirmation and further details of his death.

UN chief calls for full inquiry

The UN Secretary-General is “shocked by the reported death”, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said at the Noon Briefing in New York.

“The Secretary-General calls for a full, credible and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Navalny’s reported death in custody,” Mr. Dujarric said.

Special Rapporteurs

Special Rapporteurs and other rights experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.