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Russia: UN experts say Navalny in “serious danger”, call for medical evacuation

21 April 2021


GENEVA (21 April 2021) – UN human rights experts* today expressed alarm at the deteriorating health situation of detained Russian Government critic Alexei Navalny, and called for his urgent medical evacuation from Russia.

“We believe Mr. Navalny’s life is in serious danger,” said the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council. He has been incarcerated under harsh conditions in a high security penal colony and denied access to adequate medical care. Despite having recently been transferred to a hospital, doctors of his own choosing have not been allowed to visit him. 

“We are deeply troubled that Mr. Navalny is being kept in conditions that could amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in a facility that reportedly does not meet international standards.

“Under international human rights law, when detaining a person, irrespective of the reason for the detention, the State bears full responsibility to care for his life and bodily integrity. Due to this heightened duty of care, the Government of the Russian Federation must take all necessary measures to protect Mr. Navalny’s physical and mental health and well-being.

“We are extremely concerned that the current danger to Mr Navalny’s life, his most recent incarceration and the past attacks on him, including an attempt against his life last August with the nerve agent Novichok, which the Russian authorities have yet to effectively investigate, are all part of a deliberate pattern of retaliation against him for his criticism of the Russian Government and a gross violation of his human rights.”

Mr. Navalny was arrested and placed in detention in January 2021 immediately upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a serious attempt on his life. In February 2021, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for alleged parole violations while he was abroad for medical treatment, and sent to a high security penal colony in Pokrov. In early March, there were reports of a sharp deterioration of his health. According to information received by the experts, after the prison authorities failed to provide him with adequate medical care or allow his own physicians to visit him, on 31 March Mr. Navalny began a hunger strike in protest. After reports emerged that he was at imminent risk of irreversible renal damage and possible cardiac arrest, on 19 April he was transferred to a hospital but still does not have access to medical experts of his own choice.  

“As we have previously noted, in light of the rulings and interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights there is no valid legal basis for Mr. Navalny’s arrest, trial and imprisonment in Pokrov,” the experts said.

“The apparent violations of the prohibition of torture or other ill-treatment, his right to counsel, and most notably his right to prompt and effective medical care while in detention only deepen our already profound concerns about Mr. Navalny’s life and safety.

“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure Mr. Navalny has access to his own doctors and to allow him to be evacuated for urgent medical treatment abroad, as they did in August 2020. We reiterate that the Russian Government is accountable for Mr. Navalny’s life and health while he is in detention.”

The UN experts have communicated their concerns to the Russian Government, including through two official letters sent in August and December 2020 in which they raised concerns about Mr. Navalny’s Novichok poisoning.


*The experts: Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and ExpressionMr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact [email protected]

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / [email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

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