In his fight against Putin, Alexei Navalny needs all the help he can get. The might of the Russian state is pitted against him. Having failed to kill Navalny, the Kremlin has achieved its aim, at least in the short term, of silencing him: by locking him up in prison.
Navalny and his supporters have called on the west to assist him. So far, the response has been fairly measly: this week, the EU announced sanctions against a handful of figures in the Russian regime.
This small scale retaliation for the attempted murder of a political opponent won't bother Putin much. Now, though, Navalny's attempt to take on Putin has been undermined once again by an organisation which should know better.
Amnesty International has announced that it will no longer refer to Navalny as 'a prisoner of conscience'. The reason? Past comments the Russian opposition leader has made about immigrants which, the organisation says, effectively amounts to hate speech.
It didn't take long for Amnesty – an organisation which professes to 'take injustice personally' – to change its mind. A month ago, when Navalny made the brave decision to return to Russia and face imprisonment, and possibly worse, Amnesty declared that Navalny was a 'prisoner of conscience'. Describing Navlany as a 'prominent Kremlin critic', Amnesty said:
'Navalny has been deprived of his liberty for his peaceful political activism and exercising free speech. Amnesty International ...calls for his immediate and unconditional release'
Now, in the eyes of Amnesty, Navalny has been downgraded.
Putin, no doubt, will be delighted. The Kremlin has struggled to find ways to deal with a popular politician who has been brave enough to call out Russia's leader for what he is: a man who will resort to any means to retain his grip on power.
Instead, the Russian authorities have resorted to a tried-and-tested tactic: besmirching Navalny's name. One of the charges Navalny is facing relates to a trumped-up accusation of slandering a second world war veteran. In reality, the case is a way of damaging Putin's most effective adversary.
Amnesty says its bizarre decision to remove the 'prisoner of conscience' label from Navalny is based on an 'internal decision'. Yet the news will only help Putin in his attempt to throw mud at his enemy. It's no surprise that RT, a Kremlin-funded news channel, is covering this story.
So what did Navalny actually say? The offending comments appear to have been made in two videos in which he compared immigration from Central Asia with a disease. He is also said to have portrayed members of armed groups from the North Caucasus as insects and called for the legalisation of firearms for personal use.
These are old comments and it seems strange to drag them up now. What's more, whether or not you agree with those views, the videos in which Navalny makes these comments have been circulated online by those doing the Kremlin's bidding (unwittingly or otherwise) in its fight against Navalny. Now Amnesty International, an organisation which should be helping Navalny, has helped undermine him.
Denis Krivosheev, deputy director of Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia office, told The Spectator:
'Navalny has not, to the best of our knowledge, made similar pronouncements in recent years, and this decision does not change our resolve to fight for his immediate release and for an end to his politically-motivated persecution by the Russian authorities.'
Yet the reality is that the fight to secure Navalny's freedom has been undermined by Amnesty's misguided decision.