Isolating Navalny. A timeline of stints in solitary, correspondence bans, lawyer arrests, and the Arctic Circle transfer that preceeded the politician’s death
Алла Константинова
Isolating Navalny. A timeline of stints in solitary, correspondence bans, lawyer arrests, and the Arctic Circle transfer that preceeded the politician’s death
22 February 2024, 1:55

Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

At least six months prior to Alexei Navalny’s death, security forces began systematically severing the imprisoned politician from the outside world: they confiscated his correspondence and writing materials, arrested three of his lawyers, and put two on the wanted list, before secretly transferring him to a special regime penal colony in a remote village above the Arctic Circle, where he was almost never released from solitary confinement. Here’s a timeline of Navalny’s final months that leaves no doubt about who was responsible for his death.

August 2023. From high security to special regime

On August 4, the Moscow City Court, in a session held at IK-6 penal colony in Vladimir region close to Moscow, sentenced Alexei Navalny to 19 years of imprisonment. By that point, the politician was in a high-security colony in Kovrov. He was found guilty on six counts and, according to the verdict, was to serve his new sentence in a special regime colony.

There are only 30 such facilities in Russia. Typically located in remote areas, these prisons house convicts of severe violent crimes.

“Being in such prisons, including among lifers, is very dangerous for Navalny. It means, in principle, he could be killed, stabbed, or beaten to death just for an extra parcel. People lose card games or receive orders—and can be killed over a cigarette carton,” commented Olga Romanova, founder of the Rus Sidyaschaya (Russia Behind Bars) foundation.

September 2023. Forms of solitary

In September 2023, the First Appellate Court in Moscow upheld Navalny’s sentence.

The day after the appeal, the politician was sent to a EPKT, the strictest form of solitary confinement that came with a ban on long-term visits for 12 months. Prior to this, Navalny had been placed in SHIZO, the slightly less strict form of solitary confinement, 20 times; by law, such punishment cannot be assigned for more than 15 days, so he was released and immediately returned to solitary.

The politician sued IK-6 penal colony, trying to challenge the constant placements in solitary and bans on calls and visits. None of his lawsuits were successful.

October 2023. Lawyers’ arrests

On the morning of October 13, security forces conducted searches at the homes of Navalny’s lawyers Vadim Kobzev, Alexei Liptser, and Igor Sergunin. The same day, judges Evgenia Nikolaeva and Elena Lenskaya of the Basmanny Court in Moscow sent all three to pre-trial detention on charges of participating in an extremist community.

“I consider what is happening, undoubtedly, lawlessness,” Navalny commented in Kovrov Court, participating in the session without his defenders. “I believe my lawyers are being persecuted for their professional activity. They provided me with professional assistance; we have participated in dozens of cases in Kovrov Court alone. Why are they being arrested? Why are they demonstratively repressing lawyer Kobzev, who has three children? Or two lawyers who haven’t worked with me for over a year? All this, of course, I perceive as a spasm of this disgusting authority.”

Vadim Kobzev in court. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

On February 2, 2024, the Ministry of Internal Affairs declared two more lawyers defending Navalny—Alexander Fedulov and Olga Mikhailova—wanted. Fedulov reported that he left Russia in October following the arrest of colleagues. Mikhailova said that at the time, she was vacationing in Jordan and decided not to return to Russia. On February 15, the Basmanny Court arrested Fedulov and Mikhailova in absentia on charges of participating in an extremist community—because they were transferring letters from the politician.

November 2023. Postal disruptions

In early November, Navalny’s Telegram channel revealed that 15 of his letters had been confiscated, one of which IK-6 staff “burned on an metal saucer.” He was no longer receiving letters from his wife and lawyers, and shortly before, Navalny’s writing materials were taken away. As Ivan Zhdanov, director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote, after this, the politician refused to leave his cell and the prison guards used force on him.

According to the prison’s administration, the confiscated letters discussed “preparation for crimes.” Similarly, a statement to see a dentist, handed over by lawyers, was also confiscated, as his allies reported.

On November 15, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals of General Jurisdiction in Moscow rejected Navalny’s complaint about censorship in the penal colony. By that time, it was known that censors had not allowed three more letters: one paper and two electronic. According to the prison administration, all of them, including the electronic ones, “were burned.”

December 2023. Secret transfer to the Arctic

Starting from December 6, Alexei Navalny was no longer appearing via video link at sessions in the Kovrov City Court, which was set to consider his latest lawsuits. The colony’s representatives claimed they were allegedly “unable to fix the electricity.”

On the eve of Navalny’s disappearance, he became ill in prison: the politician experienced dizziness, forcing him to lie on the floor, according to his press secretary, Kira Yarmysh.

Navalny’s lawyers were barred from entering the prison during this time, and on December 11, the administration announced that the politician was no longer listed in IK-6. His exact transfer location remained unknown for almost three weeks: the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) only reported that he had “left the Vladimir region.”

On December 25, Yarmysh announced that Navalny had been found.

“He is in the IK-3 colony in Kharp, ‘Polar Wolf,’ in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, one of the most northern and remote penal colonies overall. The conditions there are harsh, with a special regime in the permafrost zone,” Ivan Zhdanov explained.

IK-3 in Kharp. February 18, 2024. Photo: AP

The next day, details of the transfer, which took 20 days, appeared on Navalny’s Twitter.

“They transported me with such precautions and via such a strange route (Vladimir—Moscow—Chelyabinsk—Yekaterinburg—Kirov—Vorkuta—Kharp) that I didn’t expect anyone to find me here until mid-January. So, I was very surprised when yesterday the cell door opened with the words: ‘Your lawyer is here,’ ” the politician reported.

According to Navalny, he could see a fence from his cell window, and for walks, he was taken to the adjacent cell, but with snow on the floor. “I look out the window, where it’s first night, then evening, then night again,” he shared.

January 2024. A series of stints in solitary

At his new prison, Navalny was sent to solitary confinement for the first time on January 9, immediately after the required quarantine; according to the penal colony’s staff, he “refused to introduce himself properly, does not respond to corrective work, and does not make the necessary conclusions for himself.”

Then followed three more placements in solitary for equally trivial reasons, such as Navalny incorrectly introducing himself or not placing his hands behind his back.

In the brief intervals between solitary confinements, the politician still made public appearances: on January 10, he was connected to a session of the Kovrov City Court for the first time in a month. Navalny greeted those present with his signature defiant irony: “Your honor, a tear, a tear runs down my cheek—so glad to see you all. My dear Kovrov Court, my dear dear respondents, defenders, and secretary—I am very glad to see you.”

February 2024. The last visit

On February 1, Alexei Navalny supported the “Noon Against Putin” campaign, devised by former St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Maxim Reznik. To those opposing Vladimir Putin’s fifth term, Reznik suggested coming to polling stations at the same time—12:00 PM, on March 17.

“The most important thing is that this will be a real nationwide protest action, not just in every city, but in every district of every city,” Navalny wrote.

On February 12, the administration of IK-3 allowed him a visit with his parents, a fact that became known only after the politician’s death, when Novaya Gazeta quoted a private post by his mother.

“I don’t want to hear any condolences,” Lyudmila Navalnaya wrote on Facebook then. “We saw our son in the colony on the 12, during a visit. He was alive, healthy, and cheerful.”

For almost the entire previous year, Alexei Navalny was not allowed visits with relatives.

He saw his parents in a brief interval between solitary confinements: the term of his third placement in “Polar Wolf” ended on February 11, and he was returned to solitary for the fourth time on February 14. Since August 2022, Navalny had been sent to solitary 27 times, spending a total of 295 days there.

February 15. The last court session

On February 15, the day before the FSIN reported Navalny’s death, he appeared via video link in Kovrov City Court for the last time. In a video distributed by SOTAvision, the politician can be seen joking and laughing.

“Your honor, I’m waiting, I will send you my personal account number so you can fill it up a bit with your huge federal judge salary, because I’m running out of money, and thanks to your decisions, it will run out even faster. So, go ahead and send some over,” he said.

February 16. Reports of death

A day later, around two in the afternoon on February 16, the FSIN department for Yamal suddenly reported the death of Alexei Navalny. According to the department, he “felt unwell, almost immediately losing consciousness” after a walk.

“Medical workers from the institution arrived immediately, and an ambulance crew was called. All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, which did not yield positive results. The ambulance doctors declared the convict dead. The cause of death is being established,” the press release stated.

Lyudmila Navalnaya exits the Investigative Committee office in Salekhard on February 19, 2024. Photo: AP

Just minutes after its publication, RT, the state media, citing an unnamed source, wrote that Navalny died from a detached blood clot. However, three days later, investigators justified their refusal to release the politician’s body to his family by the need for an autopsy, which would take two weeks.

In a comment to Novaya Gazeta, lawyer Leonid Solovyov reported that his colleague visited Navalny on Wednesday—two days before his death—and “everything was normal.”

On January 22, 2021, five days after being detained at Sheremetyevo Moscow airport upon his return to Russia, Navalny wrote that his plans “do not include hanging on a window grill, nor cutting my veins or throat with a sharpened spoon” in detention.

“I walk up the stairs very carefully,” he added. “My blood pressure is measured daily—fit like an astronaut, and a sudden heart attack is ruled out. I don’t drink moonshine and don’t overindulge in Raffaello. My psycho-emotional state is absolutely stable. I know for sure that outside my prison there are many good people and help will come.”

Editor: Dmitry Tkachev

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