Poisoned Kremlin critic Navalny detained after landing in Moscow
Russia’s prison service said opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport after returning from Germany on Sunday.
The prison service said he was detained for multiple violations of parole and terms of a suspended prison sentence and would be held in custody until a court makes a decision in his case.
Navalny had spent the previous five months in Germany recovering from a nerve agent attack that he blamed on the Kremlin, and the prison service earlier said that his being outside the country violated terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement.
Navalny announced Wednesday that he would return despite Russian authorities’ threats to put him behind bars again.
After boarding the Moscow flight in Berlin on Sunday, Navalny said of the prospect of arrest: “It’s impossible; I’m an innocent man.”
Navalny, who has blamed his poisoning on the Kremlin, contended that Russian President Vladimir Putin was now trying to deter him from coming home with new legal motions. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.
At the end of December, the Federal Penitentiary Service, or FSIN, warned Navalny that he faced time in prison if he failed to immediately report to its office in line with the terms of a suspended sentence and probation he received for a 2014 conviction on charges of embezzlement and money laundering — charges he rejected as politically motivated. The European Court for Human Rights had ruled that his conviction was unlawful.
The FSIN said Thursday it had issued an arrest warrant for Navalny after he failed to report to its office. The prison service, which has asked a Moscow court to turn Navalny’s 3½-year suspended sentence into a real one, said it was “obliged to take all the necessary action to detain Navalny pending the court’s ruling.
Navalny supporters and journalists had gone to Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, where the plane was scheduled to land, but it ended up touching down at Sheremetyevo airport, about 25 miles away. There was no immediate explanation for the flight diversion.
The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 37 people were arrested at Vnukovo Airport, although their affiliations weren’t immediately clear.
Vnukovo banned journalists from working inside the terminal, saying in a statement last week that the move was due to epidemiological concerns. The airport also blocked off access to the international arrivals area.ADVERTISEMENT
Police prisoner-detention vehicles stood outside the terminal Sunday.
The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and opposition social media reported Sunday that several Navalny supporters in St. Petersburg had been removed from Moscow-bound trains or prevented from boarding flights late Saturday and early Sunday, including the coordinator of his staff for the region of Russia’s second-largest city.
Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.ADVERTISEMENT
Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. They refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.
Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City.
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