By: Jackson Sharman
Amnesty International announced on May 7 that it was reapplying the “prisoner of conscience” label to Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.
The human rights group removed the designation in February because of “concerns relating to discriminatory statements he made in 2007 and 2008 which may have constituted advocacy of hatred.”
Specifically, critics of Navalny point to videos that contain disturbing imagery. In one, Navalny is dressed as a dentist and talks about how interethnic conflict in Russia is a cavity. He goes on to say fascism can only be prevented by deporting migrants from Russia.
According to Leonid Volkov, who runs the political-organizing part of Navalny’s organization, Navalny regrets making the dentist video. But because he has never denounced his past statements, and left the videos up on the internet, accusations of ethno-nationalism cling to Navalny as he continues his fight against corruption in Russia.
The Kremlin has made it a point of bringing up Navalny’s past statements in order to decrease his support both inside and outside of Russia. Amnesty International denied that both their initial decision and reversal were made due to outside pressure. They also apologized for their decision to strip Navalny of the label and condemned the Russian government’s treatment of him.
Temporarily losing Amnesty International’s designation as a “prisoner of conscience” was not the only setback Navalny has faced in recent months.
Earlier this week, Russia’s parliament adopted legislation that bans members of “extremist” organizations from being elected to political office. While Russian officials have denied that the law targets any group specifically, the bill will impact both Navalny’s political network, known as Navalny Headquarters, as well as the tens of thousands of Russians that have donated to his effort.
In April, Russian officials added Navalny Headquarters to a database of terrorist organizations. Shortly after, members of Navalny’s political network announced they were shutting down their 40 regional offices.
But Navalny said he would continue his fight. It is doubtful that the move will wipe out Navalny’s group, and his supporters will likely move their efforts underground. The proposed law is the latest in a series of measures that Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking to rid himself of Navalny and his supporters.