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Amnesty International Strips Alexei Navalny Of ‘Prisoner Of Conscience’ Status For Decades-Old Comments On Immigration

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures as he delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow on September 29, 2019. - Thousands gathered in Moscow for a demonstration demanding the release of the opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months. Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 people at the Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow about half an hour after the start of the protest, which was authorised. The demonstrators chanted "let them go" and brandished placards demanding a halt to "repressions" of opposition protesters.
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images

Amnesty International, which advocates, in part, for individuals who are imprisoned by totalitarian governments over dissent, has stripped Russian anti-Putin activist Alexei Navalny of its “Prisoner of Conscience” status for “far-right” comments Navalny made about immigrants more than a decade ago.

Amnesty International granted Navalny “Prisoner of Conscience” status in January following his detention in Moscow, after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering following what many believe to be an assassination attempt by poisoning.

“Aleksei Navalny’s arrest is further evidence that Russian authorities are seeking to silence him. His detention only highlights the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels,” Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director said in a statement back in January.

Navalny, of course, is an anti-corruption activist who has often targeted the Putin government. He’s been imprisoned a number of times, most recently because he missed a hearing in a criminal case — a hearing that happened while Navalny was in a coma.

“The Russian authorities have waged a relentless campaign against Navalny,” Zviagina said. “While he was recovering in Germany, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service demanded that he immediately present himself to a probation officer or face prison for violating a non-custodial criminal sentence, which was based on politically motivated charges. He has now been arrested for multiple violations of the probationary period.'”

Amnesty International was clear to note that Navalny was being targeted for “free speech.”

Late Tuesday, though, the organization tasked with protecting those who espouse unpopular opinions from punishment dropped their support for Navalny, ironically over an unpopular opinion Navalny expressed 15 years ago, according to the BBC, which the organization termed “hate speech.”

“Amnesty International has stripped the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny of his ‘prisoner of conscience’ status after it says it was ‘bombarded’ with complaints highlighting xenophobic comments that he has made in the past and not renounced,” the outlet said Wednesday.

“A spokesman for the human rights organization in Moscow told the BBC that he believed the wave of requests to ‘de-list’ Navalny was part of an ‘orchestrated campaign’ to discredit Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic and ‘impede’ Amnesty’s calls for his release from custody,” the BBC noted. “But on review, Amnesty International concluded that comments made by Navalny some 15 years ago, including a video which appears to compare immigrants to cockroaches, amounted to ‘hate speech’ which was incompatible with the label ‘prisoner of conscience.'”

The calls to revoke Navalny’s status came from a number of accounts, the outlet notes, that quoted a pro-Kremlin journalist, who labeled Navalny a “racist” and accused Navalny’s supporters of glossing over his “nationalism.”

The journalist, Katya Kazbek, describes herself as a “feminist, LGBT researcher, citizen of the world,” but her “posts include praise of Stalin” and she regularly opines that Navalny is an anti-Putin plant by the United States government.

While Russian state media called Amnesty International’s decision a “huge victory” for Russia, Amnesty International tried to defend its decision, noting that individuals who are unapologetic for their own “hate speech” will not receive the organization’s protection.

“Navalny has not publicly denounced his YouTube videos so our idea is that somehow he can relate to what he said,” a spokesperson for Amnesty International told the BBC. “He cannot be a prisoner of conscience: that is someone who never advocates hate or violence or uses hate speech.”

Social media users were quick to call Amnesty International’s decision embarrassing and a boon to the Russian government.

“What a disgrace from @amnesty. Classic example of an organization failing in its core mission. Congratulations on making some of the worst people in the Kremlin very happy today,” one user noted.

Amnesty International is no longer an institution that cares about rights and civil liberties,” added another. “They only care about the rights and civil liberties of people who agree with their politics.”

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