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Why Navalny had to return

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Alexei Navalny put his life at risk by returning to Russia, says Monika Zgustova in El País. The anti-Putin activist was arrested on arrival, then sent to a penal colony on trumped-up charges. He’s said he has been tortured through sleep deprivation and has gone on hunger strike after allegedly being denied proper medical care.

But if he had safely stayed in the West, “his life would be meaningless”. Russia has a long history of locked-up political rebels. When a “burly group of revolutionaries” called the Decembrists staged a coup against Tsar Nicholas I in 1825, those not shot were sent to Siberia for forced labour. During Stalin’s purges, 18 million people were sent to the gulag. Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn all wrote about these labour camps. Navalny is the heir to the dissenters. Without being “crowned with persecution and arrests”, he would have lost credibility. His detention prompted hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest and his hunger strike has sparked another wave of demonstrations across Russia. Many protestors are making their identity public, despite the danger of persecution. “Navalny is teaching the Russians not to be afraid, to confront the authoritarian power of Putin openly. And that he could only do if he returned.”

Read the full article here.