Russia: Authorities brutally suppress mourners of Aleksei Navalny

The Russian authorities have begun a widespread campaign of persecution against those paying respects to the late prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny, Amnesty International said today, as peaceful mourners across the country are arbitrarily arrested, beaten, put on trial and jailed.

At least 387 people have been arrested in 39 cities across Russia over their participation in memorial activities for Aleksei Navalny following his death on 16 February, according to protest watchdog OVD-Info. In Saint Petersburg alone, more than 200 individuals have reportedly been arrested simply for gathering peacefully to pay respect to the politician. There, the courts have also imposed so-called “administrative detentions” on at least 26 individuals who were arbitrarily arrested at events commemorating Aleksei Navalny, accusing them of “disobeying a lawful order of a police officer”, “violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding an assembly” and other alleged offences.

Detention of Aleksei Navany’s mourners in Moscow, 17 February 2024. Credit: SOTA / Telegram

“The Russian authorities have resorted to arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and unlawful detentions of people across the country who are just trying to mourn Aleksei Navalny. These callous acts are not only shockingly insensitive, but they are also a flagrant violation of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In Surgut, Bakyt Karypbaev was allegedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated at the police station, including being beaten and having a gun pointed at his head for laying flowers,” said Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher.

“The case of human rights activist Oleg Filatchev, who was sentenced to 10 days of ‘administrative detention,’ along with the hospitalization of Grigory Mikhnov-Vaitenko, a priest who had a stroke after police arrested him to halt his plan to hold a memorial service, are particularly distressing examples of the rampant injustice being inflicted on people who are trying to mourn Aleksei Navalny, a much-respected leader of Russia’s political opposition. These are not isolated incidents, but part of a country-wide campaign to silence dissent and instil fear across the nation.”

Authorities aim to ‘erase his memory’

In Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, a group of political activists was compelled to cancel an in-doors memorial event for Navalny after facing police intimidation. In Barnaul, South Siberia, 19-year-old poet Artem Sakharov was sentenced to 30 days in detention for the “repeated violation” of the rules of a public event. He was arrested on 18 February while laying flowers at a monument to victims of Soviet repression.

On 18 February, Boris Kazadayev and Ilya Povyshev were arrested in Moscow after law enforcement officers discovered photographs of Aleksei Navalny in one of their backpacks. They were stopped near an impromptu memorial for opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, near the exact spot where he was shot dead in 2015. OVD-Info reported that, on the third day of memorial events for Navalny in Moscow, police selectively searched attendees at memorials and confiscated photographs of him as well as notes bearing his name.

“The crackdown we are witnessing following Aleksei Navalny’s death in custody is not only a tragic reminder of what he fought against but also a clear indication that the Russian authorities are aiming to erase his memory. The removal of photos of Navalny and the swift dismantling of memorial events across the country, sometimes directly in front of mourners, reveals how the authorities are seeking to expunge his name from the history books,” said Oleg Kozlovsky.

Destruction of an impromptu memorial dedicated to Aleksei Navalny and the slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Moscow, 17 February 2024. Credit: SOTA/Telegram

“Amnesty International calls on the Russian authorities to immediately cease its insensitive campaign against those paying tribute to Aleksei Navalny, immediately release all those detained solely for mourning or protesting peacefully, and ensure accountability for the abuses perpetrated against them,” said Oleg Kozlovsky.

“We also reiterate our calls for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding Aleksei Navalny’s death in custody, which should be carried out with full transparency and the involvement of his family.”