Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is missing after being abruptly transferred out of his prison colony to an unknown location, a top aide said Tuesday.
“Where Alexei is now, and which colony he is being taken to, we don’t know,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, said in a statement on Telegram.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, had most recently been in custody at Correctional Colony No. 2, a prison camp in Pokrov, 74 miles east of Moscow.
But when Navalny’s lawyer arrived to visit him Tuesday, he was told, “There is no such convict here,” his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.
Navalny was jailed for two and a half years for parole violations in February 2021 after returning from Germany, where he had been recovering from an apparent Novichok nerve agent poisoning in Russia that he accuses the Kremlin of ordering.
On March 24, Navalny was sentenced to another nine years in prison for fraud and contempt of court. The high-profile dissident says the charges against him are fabricated and aimed at keeping him behind bars.
The judge ordered that Navalny, who has lambasted Russia’s war in Ukraine as “stupid,” be transferred to a maximum-security prison, where his rights to visits and correspondence will be reduced.
It has been rumored that Navalny was going to be sent to the notorious maximum-security penal colony No. 6, known as “Melekhovo” in the Vladimir region east of Moscow, where inmates were said to be tortured and raped.
“The problem with his transfer to another colony is not only that the high-security colony is much scarier, ” his spokesperson Yarmysh tweeted. “As long as we don’t know where Alexei is, he remains one-on-one with the system that has already tried to kill him, so our main task now is to locate him as soon as possible.”
Navalny’s political network has been largely dismantled since his incarceration, having been banned as an “extremist” organization. Senior aides and activists have either been jailed or forced into exile.
Navalny said two weeks ago that he had been charged in a new criminal case with creating an extremist organization and inciting hatred towards the authorities, offenses that carry a maximum jail term of 15 more years.
In a birthday message posted on his Instagram account June 4, Navalny, who turned 46, wrote that he was “doing great.”
“Well, that is, some things could be corrected – yes,” he added in the post. “But it’s the same for everyone. And most importantly, I am very pleased. I have a beloved family.
“I have great colleagues who continue our common (extremist, ha ha) business.”
With Post wires