U.N. rights experts blame Russia for attempt to kill Navalny


FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, inside a defendant dock during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) - Top U.N. human rights experts said on Monday that Russia was to blame for attempting to kill Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and called for an international investigation into his poisoning last year.

The attempt to kill Navalny was part of a pattern of attacks on critics at home and abroad, and intended send a "sinister warning" to quash dissent, Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on summary killings, and Irene Khan, U.N. expert on freedom of opinion and expression, said in a statement.

"It is our conclusion that Russia is responsible for the attempted poisoning of Mr Navalny," Callamard told a news conference, announcing the preliminary findings.

Navalny fell ill in Siberia last August and was flown to Germany, which says it found evidence he had been poisoned with Novichok, a banned nerve agent.

Russia denies any role in his illness and says it has not seen proof he was poisoned. In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia hoped the U.N. rapporteurs' intervention would prompt Germany to release data which Moscow has accused Berlin of withholding.

"We share the interest in finding out the truth of this incident," Zakharova said in a statement to Reuters.

After recuperating for five months in Germany, Navalny, 44, returned to Russia in January. He was arrested on arrival and sentenced to 2 1/2 years prison for parole violations.

"Given the inadequate response of the domestic authorities, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, and the apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings, we believe that an international investigation should be carried out as a matter of urgency in order to establish the facts and clarify all the circumstances concerning Mr. Navalny's poisoning," the U.N. experts said.

“The use of Novichok violates Russia’s commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention. It was meant to kill Mr Navalny and as such constitutes a violation of the prohibition against arbitrary killings."

Callamard and Khan also released the text of a Dec. 30 letter to Russian authorities which said that if allegations were confirmed, Russian officials may be subject to criminal liability for ordering attempted murder.

(additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Jon Boyle and Peter Graff)

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