The story of Alexey Navalny is one of rare courage and dedication to his principles.
Navalny has been a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the dictatorship that he has put in place over his more than twenty years in power. Most recently Putin put forward additional changes to the Russian constitution to extend his power past 2024, which was the previous limit given in the last constitutional change Putin forced through.
As Putin has tightened his grip, he has killed opposition figures such as Boris Nemtsov and imprisoned other opponents that Putin viewed as a potential threat, including even the richest man in Russia. And borders make no difference, and there have been several instances of attacks by Russian agents in other countries, the most notable being that of Sergey Skripol, who was poisoned in Britain.
Yet Navalny continued to speak out, even when others have been imprisoned or killed.
Navalny was campaigning for the opposition party in the last ‘election’ and boarded a plane to head to a rally. At the airport, Navalny and a few members of his team had tea and boarded the plane. Shortly after takeoff, the 44-year-old politician started feeling unwell. He went to the lavatory and could not come out. The airplane was forced to do an emergency landing in Omsk. Fellow passengers heard Navalny screaming in excruciating pain before he was taken out of the plane by medical personnel.
After emergency admission to a hospital, he was put in a medically induced coma. He was evacuated to Berlin to receive medical care and barely survived. He spent five months in Berlin recovering.
Yet the story was not over. After recovering, Navalny returned home earlier this month to Russia despite almost being killed. Unfortunately, yet not unexpectedly, Navalny was arrested, was put on trial last week and sentenced to almost three years for ‘parole violations’. One of the charges was that he did not check in and answer for his alleged violations, to which Navalny replied that he was in a coma in Germany and was not able to attend the previous hearing. Yet that made no difference to Russian officials. Protests broke out in several large cities across Russia.
Oddly, one of Navalny’s primary doctors at the original hospital in Omsk died suddenly just this past weekend, officially from a heart attack but questions remain.
Brutal repression of any opposition in Russia is concerning. More concerning is the fact that Russia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council (as is China, who has sent hundreds of thousands of minorities to work camps). The United States have previously pulled out of participating and funding the UN Human Rights Council for just those reasons. It is concerning that President Biden has said that he plans to renew participation and funding.