‘Anything to further my Communist agenda’ Another day’s developments in Navalny’s loss of ‘prisoner of conscience’ status at Amnesty International
Some new details emerged on Wednesday about the human rights organization Amnesty International’s decision to rescind Alexey Navalny’s “prisoner of conscience” status. As reported yesterday, the group has determined that Navalny’s past advocacy of anti-migrant positions constitutes hate speech. Today, more of the organization’s staff in Russia confirmed Navalny’s new designation. Also, several new encounters online fueled additional anger and ridicule.
Amnesty’s policies state that a prisoner of conscience cannot be someone who has “used or advocated violence.” The sudden concern about Navalny’s ethnic nationalism apparently revolves around statements and videos he released in the mid-2000s when he compared Muslim extremists to cockroaches and endorsed mass deportations of undocumented laborers. Navalny has never renounced these positions.
Wednesday also brought further confirmation that Amnesty International based its decision to rescind Navalny’s prisoner-of-conscience status at least in part on a Twitter thread by a Russia Today freelance columnist. Natalia Zvyagina, the head of Amnesty International's Moscow office, told the news outlet Znak.com that multiple complaints to the organization cited a series of tweets written by Katya Kazbek (real name: Ekaterina Dubovitskaya), a self-described Communist activist who calls Navalny “an avowed nationalist and racist.”
On Twitter, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan mocked the journalists and activists who have criticized Amnesty International’s decision, and she defended the work of “RT’s columnist,” only to provoke Kazbek into responding: “You’re as racist as Navalny is, so go fuck yourself.” Asked why she would write for a Russian state propaganda outlet, Kazbek said on Twitter (before locking her account to subscribers): “I will take any platform I can control to further my Communist agenda.”
Oleg Kozlovsky, an opposition activist and a researcher at Amnesty International in Russia, told the independent television network Dozhd that Navalny’s loss of status is only a “technicality” and said the organization’s London office made the final decision after deliberations with the Moscow bureau. Both Kozlovsky and Zvyagina said their organization continues to believe that Navalny is being imprisoned for challenging Vladimir Putin politically. The group still demands Navalny’s immediate release.
But the human rights group invited more ridicule on Wednesday when Acting Secretary-General Julie Verhaar tweeted the following message of thanks to Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s national campaign manager: “Grateful for our direct conversation with you just now. Glad we are united in believing that the single most important thing is freeing Alexey Navalny immediately. Now that we are in the spotlight, our demands to the Kremlin are even louder. #FreeNavalny now.” When Volkov revealed that he never spoke to Verhaar, she deleted the tweet.
Update: “Vovan” (Vladimir Kuznetsov) has released video footage confirming that he pranked Amnesty International:
Hours later, notorious telephone prankster Alexey Stolyarov (better known as “Lexus”) hinted on Facebook that he was responsible for fooling Julie Verhaar. “By the way, this was probably the most constructive and direct conversation in Volkov’s whole life,” he told columnist Oleg Kashin, indicating that either he or his partner in crime, “Vovan” (Vladimir Kuznetsov), were behind the prank.
Amnesty International’s decision to rescind Alexey Navalny’s status as a prisoner of conscience also provoked strong condemnation from Navalny’s own movement of anti-corruption activists and opposition politicians. For example, Alexander Golovach, a lawyer for Navalny’s group, formally renounced the prisoner-of-conscience status Amnesty awarded him when he was jailed in 2018.