On 7 May Amnesty International decided to re-designate Alexei Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, as a Prisoner of Conscience.
This follows after Amnesty took an internal decision in February to stop using the ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ term for Navalny, due to concerns relating to discriminatory statements he made in 2007 and 2008 which may have constituted hate speech.
The rights group has subsequently apologised to Navalny for revoking his Prisoner of Conscience status.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Agnes Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty emphasised that by confirming Navalny’s status Amnesty is not endorsing his political programme: ‘It is not Amnesty’s intention to allocate sainthood. The idea that Amnesty allocates hero status through designating someone a Prisoner of Conscience is a misunderstanding of the Prisoner of Conscience designation. It does not reflect the letter or the spirit of Amnesty’s policy’.
Callamard said: ‘We wanted to remove the possibility of Russia instrumentalising our decision to remove his Prisoner of Conscience status. It was painfully clear to us that the removal of the status created additional vulnerabilities for Navalny.’
Callamard emphasised that by restoring his status as Prisoner of Conscience Amnesty is not defending Navalny or his political views. ‘The designation pertains to the state’s actions and not to the prisoner’s political views. Navalny is held in arbitrary detention on the basis of legitimately expressing his views’, she said.
Amnesty has subsequently commenced a review of its overall approach to the use of the term ‘Prisoner of Conscience’.
‘Height of hypocrisy’
Amnesty International defines a prisoner of conscience as ‘a person who has been deprived of their liberty solely because of their conscientiously held beliefs, or for discriminatory reasons relating to their ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or other identity, who has not used violence or advocated violence or hatred.’
In a statement released on Friday Amnesty explains: ‘The Russian government and its supporters used that internal decision, which we had not intended to make public, to further violate Navalny’s rights. That was the height of hypocrisy, coming from a government that not only attempted to kill Navalny by poisoning, but has carried out unconscionable acts over the past two decades, including torture, enforced disappearances and widespread repression of political freedoms in Russia and abroad, as well as war crimes in Syria.’
Amnesty further stated: ‘It is Amnesty International’s firm commitment to actively fight injustice and oppression wherever it occurs. The Russian state is condemning Alexei Navalny to a slow death. That must be immediately stopped.’
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