Alexei Navalny “is the only prisoner in the Russian penal system to be in perpetual solitary confinement,” according to Daniel Roher, whose documentary about the Russian opposition leader, “Navalny,” has been nominated for an Oscar.
In a conversation with TheWrap CEO and editor in chief Sharon Waxman earlier this week, Roher described the disturbing torture Navalny is allegedly enduring behind bars, where he has been since 2021. “He finds himself in a particularly dangerous position,” Roher said. “He is right now in a very small cell and these guys will weaponize other prisoners as biological agents, and they’ll bring in someone who has tuberculosis or COVID to spend 12 hours in the cell with him. And then of course, Navalny will get sick and they’ll take him to the prison infirmary, deny him civilian medical care, then they’ll inject him with who knows what.
“We know that in the last month,” Roher continued, “he’s lost about 17 pounds. Every week there’s a new little torture device and last week, they installed ultra bright lights in the prison cell. So it’s really painful, awful.”
“Navalny” tells the story of the charismatic politician’s recovery after he was poisoned with a nerve agent in an August 2020 assassination attempt believed to have been ordered by the Kremlin. He convalesced in Germany and upon his return to Russia, he was arrested at the airport. The dubious charges were that he violated his parole for a suspended prison sentence he had received for alleged fraud in 2014 (a charge that Navalny has characterized as political prosecution). “The reason he missed his parole appointment was because he was in Germany recovering from a state sponsored poisoning attack,” Roher said. “The Kafka-esque absurdity of that is very much threaded into the Russian judicial system,” he said. “So he has been in prison ever since.”
The onset of the Russian-Ukrainian war was another sad, sobering continuation of the themes expressed in Roher’s documentary.
“It just became a question of getting the film out into the world immediately, because the thought that exists now if they’re launching this war is, ‘Why don’t they just rip off the Band-Aid and take out all of their adversaries at the same time? It’d be very easy for them to murder Navalny,’” Roher said.
“He is in the custody of the same man who tried to murder him once already,” he added, nodding to Russian president Vladimir Putin. “We decided that if we can keep his name in the global consciousness – even 5%, 10% – maybe that will dissuade the regime from murdering him. Maybe, as I like to call it, the pain-in-the-ass index of killing him in prison will be a little bit too high.”
But even Roher sees the tiniest glimmer of hope for his beleaguered subject. When asked by Waxman if he thinks Navalny will survive prison, Roher simply responded: “Well, I think if anyone could, it would be him.”
“Navalny” is now available to stream on HBO Max.