While recognizing the risks involved, Alexey Navalny and his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, chose to return to Russia from Germany, where Navalny had been receiving treatment for Novichok poisoning, which landed him in a coma during a trip to Tomsk in August last year. From Berlin, Navalny’s team and a joint CNN-Bellingcat investigation revealed that the poisoning, in all likelihood, was carried out by a group of named and clearly identifiable government agents.
As feared, Alexey Navalny was detained in passport control upon his arrival to Moscow on Sunday night.
– Alexey Navalny has shown admirable courage by returning into the hands of those who tried to kill him, said Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Geir Hønneland. – That courage deserves recognition even by Russian authorities, who should immediately release Navalny, drop all charges and let him carry on with his peaceful, legitimate political work, continued Hønneland.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is among those who have been forced to leave her home country for safety reasons and to continue political struggle in exile. In a comment Sunday night, she said Navalny’s detention is a dangerous step towards depriving Russians of political alternatives.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee shares Tikhanovskaya’s concern.
Many authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet Union have forced legitimate opposition out of the country and into exile. Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are the most obvious examples. By risking his life and the happiness of his family, Navalny has taken a major step towards ensuring that Russia does not join this group of countries, but that opposition remains where it belongs, at home.
Geir Hønneland, Secretary General of Norwegian Helsinki Committee
At least 53 people were arrested while waiting to meet Navalny at Vnukovo Airport, where he was supposed to land until authorities re-directed the flight.
Russian authorities confirmed late Sunday night that Navalny had been arrested and will remain in custody until further notice. The European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled that earlier convictions were politically motivated. They authorities themselves will remain under intense scrutiny not only by international and domestic human rights organizations and journalists, but by the international community at large.