To the Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International
17 March 2021
Dear Ms. Julie Verhaar,
We, international scholars of human rights, nationalism and Russian history and politics, as well as other scholars and scientists of Russian origin around the globe, are deeply disappointed by the decision of Amnesty International to revoke the “prisoner of conscience” status of Alexei Navalny. Alexei Navalny is one of the leaders of the Russian democratic movement, whose consistent fight against corruption and violence has made him the great challenger to the present regime in Russia. Instead of ensuring his own safety abroad, he returned to Russia after being poisoned there, and this crime has not been officially investigated. He was immediately arrested and detained on remand in FKU SIZO-FSIN. The Moscow city court that heard his case revoked his suspended sentence of 2014 and he has been sent to prison for two years and eight months in Vladimir oblast. This is located in a region which, according to human rights NGOs, belongs to Russia’s prison torture zone. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Navalny should be released from detention immediately. Leaders of 45 countries have joined the call to free him.
Amnesty International is known for its commitment to the struggle for human rights “wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied”. The decision to revoke Alexei Navalny’s “prisoner of conscience” status is inconsistent with the values of Amnesty International, and has given rise to deep public concern. No evidence has been produced that Navalny or his anti-corruption organization advocates the use of violence, which is Amnesty International’s main criterion for denying a political prisoner the status of prisoner of conscience. It is troubling that the only declared motive for this decision consists in the ‘nationalist statements’ that Navalny produced 12 or 15 years ago. We believe that human beings are free to change their ideas – this is one of their fundamental rights. Nobody should be blamed for opinions expressed many years ago especially if s(he) refuted them, publicly and consistently.
In his public statements and interviews as well as in his presidential program of 2017, Mr Navalny has many times declared his allegiance to the ideas of social and political justice, ethnic equality and cultural diversity. In his October 1, 2020 interview to Der Spiegel Mr Navalny said: “Part of [Russian] society echoes Putin’s rhetoric that Russia must follow its own special path. That means the establishment of a kind of super leadership similar to a monarchy, which should be based on some kind of spiritual values. On the other side, there are people like me who believe this amounts to lies and hypocrisy and who are convinced that Russia can only develop according to the European model.” In his last interview of 30 December 2020, which he gave to Sergei Guriev and TV Rain, Mr Navalny articulated these ideas very clearly.
We believe that Mr Navalny’s political activities fully correspond to the noble values of Amnesty International. Apart from the impact on Mr Navalny himself, Amnesty International’s decision has let down the thousands of people who came onto the streets to protest against Navalny’s arrest. Moreover, this decision has emboldened the regime to take further steps to suppress the legitimate struggle for democracy in the Russian Federation. By making this decision, Amnesty International has done a significant damage to the cause of human rights in Russia. In hope that this effect could still be reversed, we call on Amnesty to revoke its decision on Alexei Navalny’s status.
Alexander Etkind, Professor, Chair of history of Russia-European relations, European University Institute, Florence Italy
Dmitry Novikov Film Director, Screenwriter
Judith Pallot, Research Director, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, and Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford and Christ Church
Valery Adzhiev, PhD, Principal Academic, Faculty of Media and Communication, Bournemouth University, UK
Jeffrey Alexander, Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology, Yale University
Igor Efimov, Ph.D. Alisann & Terry Collins Professor, US National Academy of Inventors, Department of Biomedical Engineering, The George Washington University, Washington, USA
Sergei Erofeev, Rutgers University, New Jersey USA, former vice rector of the Higher School of Economics Moscow
Grigorii V. Golosov, Professor, Head of Political Science Department, European University at St. Petersburg, Russia
Sergei Guriev, Professor of economics at the Instituts d’études politiques in Paris (Sciences Po), former chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Geoffrey Hosking, Emeritus Professor of Russian History, University College, London
Vladislav L Inozemtsev, PhD in Economics, senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington
Pieter Judson, Professor, Chair of 19th and 20th Century History, European University Institute, Florence Italy
Alexander Kabanov, PhD, DrSci, Member of Academia Europaea, US National Academy of Inventors, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Mescal Swain Ferguson Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Andrey G. Kalinichev, Director of Research, Institut Mines-Télécom Atlantique, Nantes, France
Jan Kubik, Professor of political science, Rutgers University and Professor of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London
Marina Novikova, PhD in psycholinguistics, leading researcher, Department of Psychology Moscow International University
Kevin M. F. Platt, Professor of Russian and East European Studies, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania
Roald Sagdeev, National Academy of Sciences, USA, full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, USA
Nikita Sokolov, PhD in Russian history, member of the Council of the Independent Historical Society
Daniel Treisman, Professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles
Arkady Vainshtein, Gloria Lubkin Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota; recipient of Dirac Medal, Sakurai Prize, Pomeranchuk Prize and Julius Wess Award, University of Minnesota