Russian dissident Alexei Navalny placed in isolation

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WASHINGTON — Russian dissident Alexei Navalny has been placed in solitary confinement at the remote penal colony where he is serving a nine-year sentence for supposed fraud, raising renewed concerns for the safety of Vladimir Putin’s top political foe.

On his Twitter account, Navalny said that he had been placed in isolation because he had been trying to form a prisoners’ union. Earlier this month he also filed a lawsuit that asks his penal colony to disclose who purchases the goods manufactured there.

A popular opposition figure, Navalny survived a 2020 poisoning attempt, which Kremlin critics widely believe was conducted by Russian security services. He recovered in Germany but then returned to Russia, even though he knew he would be arrested as soon as his airplane touched down in Moscow, as was in fact the case.

An image of Alexei Navalny, standing behind prison bars, appears on a screen in a courtroom.
Alexei Navalny appears on a screen set up in a Moscow courtroom via a video link from prison on May 24. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

“I know that I am in the right, and that the criminal cases against me are fabricated,” he said defiantly at the time. The arrest was widely seen in the West as an attempt to silence one of the Russian president’s few remaining opponents. Others had either fled to the West or been killed.

Navalny was already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence earlier this year when he was sentenced to an additional nine years in late March, about a month after Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this summer he was transferred from the penal colony at Pokrov, or IK-2, to the more distant prison at Melekhovo, or IK-6.

A few cell blocks of the IK-6 penal colony.
The IK-6 penal colony that Navalny was transferred to is about 155 miles from Moscow. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

The reason officials gave for Navalny’s isolation was a violation of the prison’s dress code. “I was summoned from my barrack to the commission, where they announced that the video footage showed me regularly unbuttoning the top button of my prison robe while in the industrial zone (the robe is just a few sizes too small for me),” he wrote.

Navalny said that he is allowed pen and paper for 75 minutes daily. He was able to convey his plight to his attorneys in a letter; the letter was subsequently posted to Twitter in both Russian and English.

“Our team is deeply worried,” Anna Veduta, a representative of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in the United States, told Yahoo News. “The isolation unit is the harshest punishment in the legal prison hierarchy. Torture and murder are most often carried out there. Magnitsky was tortured to death in the very same manner,” she added, referencing the 2009 death of tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who was imprisoned after uncovering corruption in the Kremlin. “They count on August vacations to make it pass unnoticed.”

In his letter turned Twitter thread, Navalny called his cell a “concrete kennel. Most of the time it’s unbearable in there because it’s cold and damp. There’s water on the floor. I got the beach version — it’s very hot and there’s almost no air.”

He added that no visitors are allowed, and that exercise consists of an hour walking around a cell with a view of the sky. “All in all, it’s fun, just like in the movies,” Navalny quipped.

He said that he was reading Israeli philosopher Yuval Noah Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century.”