The human rights organization Amnesty International has rescinded its decision to grant “prisoner of conscience” status to Alexey Navalny, arguing that the jailed Russian opposition politician’s past statements about migrants from Central Asia and the North Caucasus constitute hate speech. Alexander Artemyev, the group’s Russia and Eurasia media manager, confirmed the determination to Mediazona on Tuesday, after American journalist Aaron Maté first reported the news from Amnesty’s UK division.
“Yes, we will no longer use the phrase ‘prisoner of conscience’ when referring to [Navalny], insofar as our legal and political department studied Navalny’s statements from the mid-2000s and determined that they qualify as hate speech,” Artemyev told Mediazona. “Nevertheless, our calls for his immediate release remain in force, as he is being persecuted for purely political reasons.”
Artemyev also noted that human rights activists “got the impression that the requests to review Navalny’s statements were part of a coordinated campaign abroad to discredit him,” adding that Amnesty International is still collecting signatures for a petition demanding Navalny’s freedom.
Requesting anonymity, another source at Amnesty International told Mediazona that “people in different countries at Russia Today” might have been involved in the campaign to revoke Navalny’s “prisoner of conscience” status, saying the authors of at least two complaints addressed to the organization cited a widely-shared Twitter thread by RT freelance columnist Katya Kazbek (real name: Ekaterina Dubovitskaya), where she called Navalny an “avowed nationalist and racist.”
On January 17, Amnesty International recognized Navalny as a prisoner of conscience, immediately after police officers arrested him at a Moscow airport. “Alexey Navalny has been deprived of his liberty for his peaceful political activism and exercising free speech. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional release,” the organization said in a press release.