Jailed Russian politician Alexei Navalny has been tracked down to one of the country’s toughest prisons, after supporters lost touch with him for more than two weeks.
Mr Navalny – seen as a leader for those in Russia who oppose President Vladimir Putin – is in the IK-3 prison in Kharp, about 1,200 miles (1,900km) northeast of Moscow and north of the Arctic Circle, his spokeswoman said.
Known as the Polar Wolf colony, the prison is where those convicted of the most serious crimes are kept, with harsh winters and temperatures expected to soon drop to -28C.
It was founded as part of what was once the gulag system of forced Soviet labour camps, according to the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.
“This prison will be much worse than the one that was before,” spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said, referring to Mr Navalny’s previous prison 145 miles (235km) east of Moscow.
“They are trying to make his life as unbearable as it possibly can be,” she added.
Mr Navalny’s lawyer, Ivan Zhdanov, said supporters of the 47-year-old had sent 618 requests for information on his location and suggested Russian authorities want to isolate him before the election due in March 2024 – which President Putin recently confirmed he would stand in.
As a prisoner, Mr Navalny cannot run for office.
Mr Navalny’s allies, who had already been preparing for his expected transfer to a “special regime” colony – the harshest grade in Russia’s prison system – said he hadn’t been seen since 6 December.
Russian authorities say he is a convicted criminal, though Mr Navalny denies all the charges against him.
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Mr Navalny was praised by Russia’s disparate opposition for returning to the country in 2021 from Germany, where he was treated for what Western tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent.
He says he was targeted in Siberia in August 2020 – with novichok, the same substance used in the Salisbury poisonings – but the Kremlin denies trying to kill him and said there is no evidence to support his claims.
His supporters cast him as a future leader of Russia, though it is unclear how much popular support Mr Navalny actually has inside Russia.
The authorities view him and his supporters as extremists, who they say are trying to destabilise Russia, and allege he has links to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in America.
His opposition movement has been outlawed, which has forced many of his followers to flee abroad.