Two UN human rights experts have called for an international investigation into the poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, saying evidence points to the "very likely involvement" of Russian government officials.
In a joint statement on March 1, Agnes Callamard, the UN's top expert on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan, an expert on freedom of opinion and expression, demanded Navalny's "immediate release" from prison.
"Given the inadequate response of the domestic authorities, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, and the apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings, we believe that an international investigation should be carried out as a matter of urgency in order to establish the facts and clarify all the circumstances concerning Mr. Navalny's poisoning," they said.
Navalny, 44, Putin's top critic, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin has denied.
Navalny's poisoning was part of a trend of unlawful killings and attempted killings of critics at home and abroad, meant to send a "sinister warning" to quash dissent, Callamard and Khan said.
The detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking to the streets in rallies on January 23 and 31.
A Moscow court last month sentenced Navalny to 3 1/2 years in prison after ruling that, while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case that is widely considered politically motivated.
Given time already spent in detention, the court said Navalny, who was transferred last week to the No. 2 Penal Colony in Pokrov, will serve around 2 1/2 years.
Callamard and Khan also released the text of a December 30 letter to Russian authorities, notifying Moscow that they were looking into the poisoning.
The letter said that, if allegations were confirmed, Russian officials may be subject to criminal liability "both for participating in or ordering attempted murder or for failing to ensure that subordinates do not engage in these actions."
Fresh Sanctions 'Approved'
Meanwhile, diplomatic sources said on March 1 that EU member states have approved sanctions that will be imposed on four senior Russian justice and law enforcement officials involved in Navalny's detention.
According to two sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to the French news agency AFP, the names would be published in the bloc's official journal on March 2.
The sources -- confirming earlier reports -- said the targeted Russians are Aleksandr Kalashnikov, the federal prisons administrator; Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of Russia; Igor Krasnov, the prosecutor-general; and Viktor Zolotov, the director of the National Guard.
The four would be the first individuals to be targeted under the EU's new human rights sanctions regime, which came into effect in December.
Reacting to the reports, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the endorsement of new sanctions by the EU would lead to "an impasse" in bilateral relations.
"This is not a surprise for us. We have commented on this repeatedly," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko told journalists on March 1.
"The European Union keeps following an absolutely unlawful way, and this way certainly leads to an impasse," Grushko said.