Lawyers for Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny say he has been moved from a detention center in the Vladimir region, northeast of the Russian capital, to an undisclosed location amid a call from Western countries for his immediate release.
Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was sent to prison last month to serve 2 1/2 years over alleged parole violations related to an embezzlement case he and rights activists say was trumped up for political reasons, something the authorities deny.
Navalny's lawyers said in a tweet on March 12 that they showed up at Detention Center No. 3 in Kolchugino at the start of the work day, only to be run around and deceived before being informed several hours later "that Aleksei had left."
The TASS news agency quoted on unnamed source in law enforcement as saying he had been moved to a penitentiary in nearby Pokrov, but was in quarantine, which can last as long as 15 days under Russian law.
Russian authorities typically do not provide information about the transfer of prisoners until after they reach their destination and by late afternoon Navalny's lawyers reiterated that they still did know his whereabouts.
"Aleksei's lawyers went to IK-2 in Pokrov. There they were told that there was no information about the delivery of Navalny, and in general the institution had 'a short day.' It was 15:30 local time. Where Aleksei is is still unknown and the FSIN [Federal Penitentiary Service] is clearly going to hide it as long as possible," a tweet from Navalny's certified Twitter account said.
On March 3, Navalny said that he had been moved to Detention Center No. 3 in the town of Kolchugino, though it was expected that eventually he would be moved to a penal colony in the nearby city of Pokrov, 100 kilometers east of Moscow. The colony is known as one of the toughest in the European part of the Russian Federation.
As news of his transfer broke, dozens of countries, including the United States, called for his immediate release and an investigation into his poisoning last year with a military-grade nerve agent.
Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in January immediately upon returning from Berlin, where he had been recovering from what several Western labs determined was a poisoning attempt using a Novichok-type nerve agent that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August 2020.
Russia has denied involvement, but Navalny has said the assassination attempt was ordered by Putin.
A Moscow court in February ruled that, while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case that is widely considered politically motivated.
His suspended 3 1/2-year sentence was converted into jail time, though the court reduced that amount to 2 1/2 years for time already served in detention.
Navalny’s detention set off a wave of national protests and a crackdown against his supporters.
The European Union and the United States imposed fresh sanctions against Russia over the Navalny case.
On March 12, the representative for Poland read out a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council that said the actions against Navalny by Russian authorities were "unacceptable and politically motivated."
"We call on the Russian Federation for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Navalny and of all those unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, including for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of religion or belief," the joint statement said.
It was signed by 45 countries, most of which were European but also included Australia, Canada, and Japan, along with the United States.