Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny found in Arctic Circle prison colony

Associates say he now faces the 'highest possible level of isolation' from the world

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a court hearing in Moscow this year. Reuters
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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been found in a prison colony above the Arctic Circle about three weeks after contact with him was lost, his associates say.

Navalny, who is serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism, had been jailed in the Vladimir region of central Russia, about 230km east of Moscow

His lawyers recently voiced concern after claiming they had not been able to reach him since December 6.

His spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on X, formerly Twitter, that he was in a prison colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region about 1,900km north-east of Moscow.

Navalny is “doing well” and a lawyer visited him, Ms Yarmysh said.

The US State Department has welcomed reports that Navalny has been located, but said it was "deeply concerned' for his wellbeing and the conditions of his "unjust" detention.

The region is notorious for long and severe winters. The town is near Vorkuta, the coal mines of which were among the harshest of the Soviet Gulag prison camp system.

“It is almost impossible to get to this colony," said Navalny's chief strategist, Leonid Volkov.

"It is almost impossible to even send letters there. This is the highest possible level of isolation from the world."

Transfers in Russia’s prison system are often shrouded in secrecy and inmates can disappear from contact for several weeks.

Navalny’s team was particularly alarmed when he could not be found because he had been ill and was reportedly being denied food and kept in an unventilated cell.

Supporters believed he was deliberately being hidden after President Vladimir Putin announced his candidacy in Russia’s March presidential election.

While Mr Putin’s re-election is all but certain, given his overwhelming control of the country’s political scene and a widening crackdown on dissent, Navalny’s supporters and other critics hope to use the election to erode public support for the Kremlin leader and the war in Ukraine.

Navalny has been behind bars in Russia since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Before his detention, he campaigned against official corruption and organised major anti-Kremlin protests.

Navalny has since received three prison terms and spent months in isolation in Penal Colony 6 for minor infractions.

He has rejected all charges against him as being politically motivated.

Updated: December 25, 2023, 7:57 PM