Russian Rights Group Memorial Documents 410 Political Prisoners

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow on February 20.  

The number of political prisoners in Russia has increased to at least 410, the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center said.

In its latest updated accounting of political prisoners released on August 16, Russia’s leading human rights group said its list is “only a minimum estimate of the number of political prisoners” languishing in jail or under house arrest.

“In reality, there are undoubtedly significantly more political prisoners and other persons imprisoned for political reasons,” it said.

Of documented political prisoners, 329 people were deprived of liberty for exercising their right to freedom of religion and 81 for other political reasons.

At the beginning of the year, there were 349 names on the list.

The most prominent new political prisoner is opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who was jailed in January after returning from life-saving treatment in Germany for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a claim the Kremlin has denied.

Memorial said that in addition to Navalny, numerous supporters of the Kremlin critic are also political prisoners, as well as journalists from the student magazine Doxa who reported on protests against the imprisonment of the opposition leader.

Others added to the list include activists and potential opposition candidates for September’s parliamentary elections.

“Many potential candidates were prosecuted on a variety of illegal and unfounded charges,” Memorial said.

Meanwhile, Memorial said “pressure on believers does not stop,” as 78 new names were added to the list for practicing their religion.

In particular, Muslims accused of membership in the banned Tablighi Jamaat and Hizb ut-Tahrir were targeted, and repression against Jehovah’s Witnesses has “significantly increased,” Memorial said.

From just January to August, Memorial documented 46 new cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses either being placed under house arrest or put behind bars.

Russia labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist group and banned it in 2017, leading to a wave of court cases and prison sentences against its members.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejection of military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.

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