“Prisoner of conscience” is a term used by human rights organizations such as Amnesty to describe people unfairly detained for peacefully criticizing the authorities.
“This is the highest status you can get from Amnesty as a prisoner,” said Amnesty spokesperson Ruud Bosgraaf. “You must be totally unchallenged.”
Navalny demonstration procedures
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is now in jail for fraud, but the case is viewed internationally as a show trial. The European Court ruled that Navalny had an “unfair” trial.
The real reason for Navalny’s imprisonment is most likely his opposition to President Putin’s regime. In 2020, Navalny survived a Russian secret service assassination attempt with the nerve poison novichok.
Navalny recovered in Germany, returned to Russia and was immediately arrested upon his arrival on January 17, after which he was granted Amnesty status as a “prisoner of conscience”.
But Amnesty is now withdrawing this symbolic status. Reason: “hate speech”. At the start of his political career, more than ten years ago, Navalny made statements about Muslim immigrants. For example, he compared them in a video with cockroaches.
You can see a number of these statements for yourself in the video below.
The statements are more than ten years old. Navalny later nuanced his views somewhat and he hasn’t made nationalist videos in years, but he never distanced himself from the offensive statements of his early years.
Requires an impeccable reputation
According to Amnesty’s Bosgraaf, you only get “prisoner of conscience” status if your reputation is spotless. “In practice, it shouldn’t make a difference. Sometimes you also want to get people released who don’t have an unspoken reputation.”
Bosgraaf cites the example of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar. She was once an Amnesty prisoner of conscience. Then she was released and did not do enough to protect the Rohingya minority when she was driven out by the military. No more “prisoners of conscience”. “
The angry Russian opposition
However, Amnesty International’s decision falls badly with the Russian opposition. There, too, many are in the stomach with Navalny’s past statements, but the timing of Amnesty International’s decision raises questions.
Some Amnesty employees denounce Mediazona news site that Amnesty reviewed Navalny’s status again when sudden complaints arose. These complaints always referred to a specific set of anti-Navalny posts on Twitter. They were written by a journalist who works with RT, the ex-Russia Today spokesperson for the Kremlin.
The criticism is that Amnesty is guided by pro-Kremlin journalists. A Navalny lawyer, himself described as a “ prisoner of conscience ” by Amnesty in 2018, renounce this title “because it can be taken from you under the pressure of Putin’s state propaganda.”
Bosgraaf considers that it is possible that Amnesty reassessed Navalny’s status on the basis of the information received. “What we didn’t do well was we didn’t find out before. Then we should have revoked the ‘prisoner of conscience’ status earlier. We dropped a point there, I think.”
Bosgraaf emphasizes that Amnesty has taken an independent decision. “Sometimes our decisions are politically abused, but we don’t give in to it. In this case, it does not suit Russian opposition circles and the Kremlin is happy with it. So be it. Amnesty often takes positions that are simply not popular. . “
There is one more thing Bosgraaf would like to say. “We are always amazed at how much attention is paid to this. The bottom line is that we will continue to work for the release of Navalny. We handed over a few hundred thousand signatures to Moscow last week.”
“The fact that Navalny is no longer a ‘prisoner of conscience’ is by no means decisive. Apparently the word ‘prisoner of conscience’ has a great symbolic effect.”