Arrested, jailed, poisoned, and now behind bars is Russia’s opposition leader and an anti-corruption activist Alexei Anatolievich Navalny also known as ‘the blogger’. With 2 million followers on Twitter and more than 6 million subscribers on YouTube, Alexei is one of those leaders who use social media to its optimum effect in spreading the anti-corruption movement across several countries. Alexei is the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and leads the Future Party in Russia.
The Russian government has employed numerous tactics on Alexei Navalny like subjecting him to defamation and creating his criminal record so that he would not be able to contest elections inside Russia.
Starting from 2013, Alexei was sentenced to suspension for embezzlement. Despite the suspension, Alexei was allowed to contest for the capacity of Mayor in Moscow’s Mayoral Election. He lost to Sergey Sobyanin, a Putin appointee. Despite losing he managed to surpass expectations and came second with 27% votes. Again in 2014, he was served with suspension for fraud. The case professed embezzlement from ‘Yves Rocher’ a Russian subsidiary of a French cosmetic firm. Both the brothers Oleg and Alexei were sentenced to three and a half years, but Alexei got out on parole. These two criminal charges are considered to be politically motivated. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened and said the cases against Alexei violated his right to a fair trial, but this attempt did no good and the cases were never overturned.
In December 2016, Alexei Navalny launched his campaign for the 2018 Presidential elections. After registering he was barred by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Russia because of his previous criminal records. Further, CEC stated that this ban shall continue till 2028. He appealed against the ban but was immediately turned down by the Supreme Court of Russia. Alexei, with his out-of-the-box thinking, came up with the idea of “Smart Voting'' in 2018. This tactical strategy deliberated to amalgamate the votes of those who were against the United Russia Party, to reduce their seats in the regional and federal elections. This tactical strategy paid off in the regional elections of September 2020 when he managed to win in Moscow, Khabarovsk, Tomsk and Novosibirsk.
In August 2020 Alexei collapsed during his flight over Siberia which caused an emergency landing and he was rushed to hospital in Omsk. After allowance by the Russian officials, he was airlifted to Berlin, Germany for treatment. German government disclosed that tests done by the doctors found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group”. After recovering from the deadly attack, he alleged in one of his YouTube videos featuring a member of the Kremlin’s security agency, the FSB, revealing that the FSB poisoned him. He also added that Putin ordered the state agency to poison him. Navalny said in the court “His main gripe with me is that he will go down in history as a poisoner. We had Alexander the Liberator, Yaroslav the wise, and we will have Vladimir the Underpants Poisoner”.
On 17th January 2021, Navalny returned to Moscow after completing his treatment. Hundreds of his supporters came to welcome him in the bitter cold outside Vnukovo Airport, but the aircraft in which he was travelling was diverted to Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow. Navalny’s return was very short-lived as he was arrested immediately after landing, on various politically motivated charges. On being asked about his return, knowingly that the return will bring about his arrest, Navalny said “I am not afraid, I know that I am right and that all the criminal cases against me are fabricated.” The state agency notified that Navalny will serve his term in penal colony number 2 in the town of Pokrov, about 100 km east of Moscow.
On 21st January Navalny was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months by taking into consideration and subtracting the 10 months he had spent in House Arrest before the fatal poison attack. His arrest was resented by his supporters and sparked protests all around the country. These protests brought about mass arrests which were said to be around 10,000.
Navalny has always been challenging Vladimir Putin and his government for having a dictator-like approach. He has been unfairly treated at every stage of the justice system in Russia. His right to movement, right to speech and right to a fair trial have all been violated. Despite all these hurdles he did not refrain from speaking for what is right and what is needed for a better tomorrow.
Through his YouTube channel, Navalny has published multiple videos that uncover the corruption inside Russia. One such video published recently named “Putin’s Palace” exposes a vast luxury black sea palace, allegedly gifted to the President by his rich businessman friends/associates. This palace is said to have a casino, vineyard and skating rink. This video has more than 100 million views. The Kremlin labelled the video as a ‘pseudo investigation’ and Mr President called it ‘boring’. Later billionaire businessman Arkady Rotenberg, one of Mr Putin’s closest friends said it was his palace. The current state of lawlessness in Russia has always been mocked by Navalny.
During his recent courtroom speech, he mocked the “performance” of justice. Navalny said “This is what happens when lawlessness and proizvol (arbitrary power) become the essence of a political system, and it is horrifying, but it is even worse when they pose as state prosecutors and dress up in a judge's robe. It is the duty of every person not to submit to you or such law.”
These multiple efforts by Mr Vladimir Putin have violated Alexei Navalny’s rights and freedoms at all stages of his fight against corruption and dictatorship of the current government, but these attempts have also been a blessing in disguise for Navalny as this has helped him gather a large number of on-ground supporters who believe in him, despite the ruling government clamping him down, and want a better Russia for their upcoming generations.