“Prisoner of conscience” is a term used by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International to describe people unjustly detained for their peaceful criticism of the authorities.
“It is the highest ranking you can get from Amnesty as a prisoner,” said Amnesty spokesman Ruud Busgrave. “It should be absolutely unchallenged.”
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is now jailed for fraud, but the case is viewed internationally as a show trial. The European Court ruled that Navalny be granted an “unfair” trial.
The real reason Navalny was imprisoned was probably his opposition to President Putin’s regime. In 2020, Navalny survived an assassination attempt by the KGB with the nerve poison novichok.
Navalny recovered in Germany, returned to Russia, and was arrested upon arrival on January 17, after which he was granted pardon status as a “prisoner of conscience.”
But Amnesty is now withdrawing this symbolic status. The reason: “hate speech.” Early in his political career, more than ten years ago, Navalny made some statements about Muslim immigrants. For example, compare them to cockroaches in a video.
You can see a number of these phrases for yourself in the video below.
The statements are more than ten years old. Navalny later modified his views somewhat, not making national videos for years, but he never shied away from offensive remarks from his early years.
It requires a good reputation
According to Bosgraaf, Amnesty International, you only get “prisoner of conscience” status if your reputation is spotless. “Practically speaking, it shouldn’t make a difference. Sometimes you also want to release people who don’t have an undeclared reputation.”
Bosgraf cites the example of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar. She was once a prisoner of conscience for Amnesty International. She was then released and did not do enough to protect the Rohingya minority when the army pursued them. There is no longer a “prisoner of conscience.”
The Russian opposition is furious
However, Amnesty International’s decision is strongly opposed to the Russian opposition. There, too, many are complacent about Navalny’s old remarks, but the timing of Amnesty International’s decision raises questions.
Some Amnesty staff told the Medizona news site that Amnesty began to look again at Navalny’s situation when complaints suddenly came in. Those complaints always point to a specific string of anti-Navy messages on Twitter. They were written by a journalist with RT, Russia Today, the Kremlin’s mouthpiece.
The criticism is that Amnesty is guided by pro-Kremlin journalists. A lawyer from Navalny, who was described by Amnesty International as a “ prisoner of conscience ” in 2018, Abandon this title “Because it can be taken from you under the pressure of Putin’s state propaganda.”
Posgrave believes that it is possible that Amnesty International has reassessed Navalny’s situation on the basis of the information received. “What we didn’t do well is we didn’t discover it before. Then we had to cancel the former” prisoner of conscience “status. I think we dropped a stitch there, I think.”
Buscraff confirms that Amnesty International has made an independent decision. “Sometimes our decisions are misused politically, but we do not give in to it. In this case, this suits Russian opposition circles badly and the Kremlin is happy with it. So be it. Amnesty often takes unpopular positions.”
Bosgraf has one more thing to say. “We are still amazed at the attention paid to this matter. The essence is that we continue to work for Navalny’s release. We delivered a few hundred thousand signatures in Moscow last week.”
The fact that Navalny is no longer a ‘prisoner of conscience’ is not at all decisive. The word ‘prisoner of conscience’ appears to have a great symbolic effect. ”