Kremlin critic Navalny begins serving time for parole violation

Kremlin critic Navalny begins serving time for parole violation

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was convicted of violating parole while he was being treated in Germany for a poison attack
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was convicted of violating parole while he was being treated in Germany for a poison attack

MOSCOW - Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a penal colony east of Moscow to serve a term for violating parole, a public commission that monitors detainees' rights said Sunday.

President Vladimir Putin's most prominent opponent was sentenced this month to two-and-a-half years at a facility in the Vladimir region about 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of the capital.

He was convicted of violating parole terms while in Germany recovering from a poisoning attack.

For several days, Navalny's allies were unaware of his whereabouts, with the head of the Federal Prison Service saying Friday only that he had been transferred from a Moscow detention centre to a penal colony.

Reports based on unnamed sources circulated in local media over the weekend about Navalny's possible location, before Moscow's public commission said in a statement that he was in a Federal Prison Service institution in the Vladimir region.

"We have 100 percent information that Navalny arrived in the Vladimir region to serve his sentence," a member of the commission, Alexei Melnikov, told the Interfax news agency.

"At first, he will be in quarantine, then he will be transferred to his colony," he added.

Reports in Russian news agencies suggested that the opposition figure's final destination would be penal colony no. 2 in the town of Pokrov.

State news agency RIA Novosti reported that the colony is "strict" regarding "disciplinary compliance", and that Navalny will find it difficult to make calls, with cell phones banned and a payphone that often does not work.

Another state news agency, TASS, cited an unnamed source as saying that the Kremlin critic will have the option of working as a cook, librarian, mask sewer or machinist.

- 'No threat to life' -

Navalny spent months recovering in Germany from the near fatal poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok that he claims was ordered by Putin -- a claim the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

The 44-year-old politician was arrested on his return to Moscow last month, sparking a wave of protests across the country and a brutal police crackdown.

He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a penal colony for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for fraud charges that the European Court of Human Rights has deemed "arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable".

Last week the Strasbourg-based court ordered Russia to release Navalny, saying his life was in danger in prison, but Moscow swiftly rejected the call.

The head of Russia's prison service said Friday that Navalny would serve his sentence in "absolutely normal conditions" and "guaranteed" there was "no threat to his life".

The crackdown on Navalny worsened Russian relations with the West that were already at their lowest point since the Cold War.

Leaders of Western countries have condemned Navalny's detention and called for his immediate release, and the European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials over the crackdown.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement Saturday on the sixth anniversary of the murder of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov that said Russian opposition figures continue to be targeted for "assassination".

In addition to the sentence he is set to serve, Navalny is the target of a probe for large-scale fraud, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The Kremlin critic has denounced the investigation as politically motivated.

His team called for protests to be suspended after 11,500 demonstrators were detained in late January and early February, but it has also said that rallies would resume in the coming months.

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