Amnesty International apologizes to Russia's Navalny, restores 'prisoner of conscience' status
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Amnesty International on Friday apologized to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for stripping him of its "prisoner of conscience" status and said it would restore the designation.
Amnesty announced on Feb. 24 that it would stop referring to Navalny as a prisoner of conscience on the grounds that in the past he had made comments that qualified as advocacy of hatred.
"Following careful evaluation Amnesty International has decided to re-designate Alexei Navalny as a 'Prisoner of Conscience,'" it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
Amnesty said the Russian government and its supporters had used the Feb. 24 decision to further violate the rights of Navalny, who was arrested in January and sentenced to jail for parole violations he called trumped up.
"Amnesty International made a wrong decision ... and apologizes for the negative impacts this has had on Alexei Navalny personally, and the activists in Russia and around the world who tirelessly campaign for his freedom," it said. The news broke a day after Leonid Volkov, Navalny's chief of staff, told Canadian legislators that the reversal was coming.
Navalny has been criticized for past nationalist statements against illegal immigration and for attending an annual nationalist march several years ago.
Amnesty said it had reviewed its process for naming people as prisoners of conscience and would no longer remove the designation solely based on their past conduct.
"Some of Navalny's previous statements are reprehensible and we do not condone them in the slightest ... by confirming Navalny's status as (a) prisoner of conscience, we are not endorsing his political program, but are highlighting the urgent need for his rights," it said.
Volkov said Navalny's health was improving after he ended a hunger strike to protest against his treatment.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Howard Goller)