Amnesty International stopped classifying Putin critic Alexei Navalny as a prisoner of conscience, saying he advocated hatred in the past

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Mia Jankowicz
·3 min read
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Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow
The Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny at in a rally in Moscow. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
  • Amnesty International has stopped calling the Putin critic Alexei Navalny a prisoner of conscience.

  • This is because of hateful statements he's made, the human-rights NGO told Insider.

  • Amnesty says that it still wants him to be released and that he is being persecuted by Russia.

  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Amnesty International has said it will no longer call the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny a "prisoner of conscience" in its defense of him, arguing that the label should not apply because he advocated hatred in the past.

The nongovernmental organization told Insider it nonetheless was still calling for his release, saying he was being persecuted on trumped-up charges for his vocal opposition of President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, the most significant domestic challenger to Putin, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years imprisonment in February after being found guilty of violating the parole terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.

Navalny was poisoned - almost fatally - with the nerve agent Novichok in August. He accuses Putin of being behind the attack.

In December, an investigation by Bellingcat and CNN linked the poisoning to Russia's FSB security agency, though Russian authorities have denied involvement.

Navalny was detained on his return to Russia on January 17 after medical treatment in Germany and denied having broken the law. When asked in court why he had not attended his parole meetings, he said: "I was in a coma." A subsequent appeal, on February 20, failed.

His imprisonment sparked protests across Russia and a global outcry, including the support of Amnesty International.

Alexei Navalny Protest
People clashing with the police during a protest against the jailing of Navalny in St. Petersburg on January 23. Dmitri Lovetsky

Denis Krivosheev, the deputy director of Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia office, said in a Wednesday statement that Navalny "is being punished for daring to criticize President Putin and his government."

The NGO, however, has taken an "internal decision to stop referring to Aleksei Navalny as a prisoner of conscience in relation to comments he made in the past," Krivosheev added, using an alternative spelling for Navalny's first name.

A representative clarified to Insider that these comments included old videos and social-media posts in which Navalny purportedly described Central Asian immigration as a disease; referred to Georgians as "rodents"; and portrayed armed groups from the North Caucasus as insects. Insider has not been able to independently verify the materials.

Insider has approached Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.

The NGO said Navalny had not publicly retracted the purported comments, which Krivosheev wrote "reach the threshold of advocacy of hatred."

The NGO representative said the posts appeared to have resurfaced as part of ongoing Russian government attempts to discredit Navalny and his activism.

Pro-Kremlin media outlets have, in recent weeks, attempted to discredit Navalny, suggesting Nazi sympathies and accusing him of being "unpatriotic" and "shady," according to the BBC.

Amnesty International emphasized that the hateful posts it has seen were old and said it continued to fight for his release.

The decision not to call him a prisoner of conscience, which was taken early last week, "does not change our resolve to fight for his immediate release and for an end to his politically-motivated persecution by the Russian authorities," Krivosheev wrote.

"Aleksei Navalny has committed no crime. He is imprisoned solely for his peaceful anti-corruption research and campaigning, his political activism and his criticism of Putin's government," he wrote, adding that the NGO had last week demanded Navalny's release with a 200,000-signature petition to Russian authorities.

Read the original article on Business Insider