16 February 2024 – UN experts* today called on the Russian Federation to swiftly investigate reports of the unexpected death in custody of prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny while serving a 19-year prison sentence, following his arbitrary arrest in 2021 and politically motivated trials on unsubstantiated charges of extremism.

“We call for an independent investigation into the circumstances of Navalny’s death, including an independent autopsy, separate from the State,” the UN experts said.

The experts reiterated their call for the release of all political opposition activists, human rights defenders, journalists and anti-war activists arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their human rights and opposing Russia’s war against Ukraine. They specifically called for the release of Vladimir Kara-Murza, Ilya Yashin and Alexei Gorinov, whose health and lives are in serious danger.

“The world is in shock at the allegations of Navalny’s death, a political figure who had the courage and moral conviction to confront the Russian authorities about the demise of rule of law, democracy and human rights in Russia,” the experts said. “These allegations must be urgently investigated and all those responsible prosecuted.”

Information about Navalny’s death was first reported by Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets Prison Service on its website. The experts noted that the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) sent an investigation team to the IK-3 prison where he was detained. “If confirmed, Navalny’s death would constitute arbitrary deprivation of life and serve as a stark reminder of the drastic deterioration of human rights in the Russian Federation,” the experts said.

The arbitrary arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny in retaliation for his political activities and opposition to the Russian authorities has been raised on numerous occasions by UN experts and international and regional human rights institutions.

“We have warned the authorities that Navalny’s conditions of detention amounted to torture and ill-treatment,” the experts said. “Urgent calls for his release, including on humanitarian grounds in view of his deteriorating health and denial of adequate medical care in prison, have fallen on deaf ears with the Russian authorities.”

Three of his defence lawyers were arrested in October 2023 on charges of “extremism”, and two others in exile were sentenced to prison in absentia. Navalny’s enforced disappearance and the news of his reappearance on 25 December 2023, after being secretly transferred by the authorities to a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle, were seen as a deliberate attempt orchestrated by the Russian Government to remove him from public view and cut off access to his lawyers and family.

“This is not just a time to express condolences. This is a time to demand justice for Navalny and all other political activists and human rights defenders in the Russian Federation who have fallen victim to the system of repression and silencing of civil society and any dissent in Russia,” the experts said.

*The experts: Mariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Cecilia M. Bailliet, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Dr. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial summary or arbitrary executions; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association ; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Perez, Chair-Rapporteur of Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), and Mr. Mumba Malila, Working Group on arbitrary detention