Alexei Navalny had a brutal December. At the start of the month the Putin critic abruptly disappeared from his prison colony in Vladimir, east of Moscow. For 20 days no one knew of his whereabouts until his lawyers tracked him down to the ‘Polar Wolf’ colony of Kharp, deep within the Arctic Circle. Yesterday, he was seen by the public for the first time since his transfer.
Appearing over video link, the gaunt Kremlin critic held a short press conference ahead of his appointment in court to sue the Vladimir colony where he was being held until December. Standing behind a metal grille, head shaved and dressed in a prison jumpsuit, Navalny looked thrilled, and a little relieved, to be allowed to interact with journalists.
The conditions he’s now being kept in, he said, are ‘much better than in Vladimir’. He cracked a few jokes with reporters, saying the only problem he has is that there’s no one to sue for the weather being as bad as it is. His health, he said, is ‘fine’. The food too was ‘fine, everything is good, everything is good’. Letters still hadn’t reached him, although that was fair enough, he joked, given how far away from Moscow he now was.
After the press conference came his court appearance. Navalny was suing the Vladimir prison authorities for illegally placing him in a punishment cell for 12 days in October after he argued with a guard. He alleged that the guard in question had confiscated his writing pen. When Navalny argued back – calling him amongst other things a ‘donkey’, ‘moron’ and a ‘scarecrow’ – he was thrown into solitary confinement. In the end though, the court threw out his case, saying Navalny had violated the prison’s rules by using ‘offensive’ words.