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A Year After Arrest, Russia's Navalny Says He Has No Regrets

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Aleksei Navalny was arrested upon his return to Moscow on January 17 last year.

Aleksei Navalny says he has no regrets and has called on his supporters not to be "afraid," a year to the day the opposition politician was detained after returning to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning.

"I sided with those honest people who do not want to be, or cannot be, scared any more. I did it, I don't regret it for a second, and I will continue doing it," Navalny, who is serving time in an old embezzlement case that is widely considered as being politically motivated, said in a post on Instagram on January 17.

"Having served my first year in prison, I want to tell everyone exactly what I shouted to those gathered outside the court when a convoy led me to a police van: Don't be afraid of anything," the vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin said.

"This is our country and we have no other," Navalny wrote, also posting a photo of himself wearing an inmate's uniform, with his arm around his wife, Yulia.

Amnesty International marked the first anniversary of Navalny's arrest by urging the international community and people across the world to join their voices to call for his release, and put an end to their "unprecedented campaign of repression and reprisals" against his supporters.

Navalny, 45, was detained in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021 upon his arrival from Berlin, where he had been recovering after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020.

A Moscow court ruled two weeks later that, while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole imposed from a widely criticized 2014 embezzlement case.

Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a jail term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time he had been held in detention.

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The opposition politician has claimed his near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning.

In his Instagram post on January 17, Navalny said he didn't know when his imprisonment "will end and whether it will end at all."

Speaking in a phone interview with Current Time, a lawyer for Navalny said that "everything is being done...so that he is kept in prison as long as possible."

"And I think that this period may be indefinite, given the huge number of criminal cases that have been initiated against him and are being investigated," Olga Mikhailova said.

In the year since Navalny's detention, the Kremlin critic, his supporters, and Russian civil society organizations "have suffered a relentless onslaught of repression," Marie Struthers, Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement on January 17.

"Dozens of Navalny’s associates and supporters are facing prosecutions on bogus charges, while a growing number of them are already in prison," Struthers said, while the Russian authorities "have labelled his organizations as 'extremist' and blocked their websites."

Some of Navalny's associates have fled the country fearing political persecution, "yet they now fear their relatives in Russia will suffer a similar fate of unfounded prosecution and imprisonment," she said. "On the anniversary of his detention, Navalny and the political activists associated with him are in a living hell."

In June 2021, two organizations founded by Navalny-- the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Citizens’ Rights Defense Foundation (FZPG) -- were officially labelled as “extremist” and banned. Their activities have since been criminalized.

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In September 2021, a criminal case was opened against Navalny and his associates under the charge of creating an "extremist association," while the opposition politician also faces up to 15 additional years in prison if convicted on charges that include fraud and money laundering in relation to alleged misappropriation of donations to his nongovernmental organizations.

On January 14 this year, two associates of Navalny -- Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov -- were added to a Russian list of "extremists and terrorists," and their assets in the country are now blocked.

Zhdanov's father was handed a suspended prison sentence last year in a corruption case that critics say is politically motivated.

"The callous actions of the Kremlin, who remain hellbent on silencing and vilifying Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, must end now," Struthers said, adding that the people of Russia “should not have to suffer from the relentless suppression of their human rights.”

According to Struthers, more than 360,000 people around the world have signed a petition launched by Amnesty International that calls for the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Navalny.

On January 17, the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called on the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release of Lilia Chanysheva, the former head of Navalny's office in the city of Ufa, in Bashkortostan.

Chanysheva was ordered last month to remain in pretrial detention until April 9.

Thousands of Russians were detained during nationwide protests in January 2021 calling for his release.

Navalny's imprisonment and poisoning also sparked an international outcry, with the European Union, Britain, and other countries imposing further sanctions on Russian officials.

European lawmakers chose Navalny as the recipient of the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on October 20, saying he "has campaigned consistently against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime."

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