A series of sensational allegations that imagined RT at the heart of a shadowy campaign to smear jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny over past ‘racist’ remarks are false, a prominent human rights organization has insisted.
Claims that Amnesty stripped Navalny of ‘prisoner of conscience’ status because of pressure from RT ‘untrue,’ says embattled NGOA series of sensational allegations that imagined RT at the heart of a shadowy campaign to smear jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny over past ‘racist’ remarks are false, a prominent human rights organization has insisted.
In a statement issued on Thursday evening, Amnesty International sought to justify its decision to remove the anti-corruption campaigner’s designation as a “prisoner of conscience.” In the release, the civil liberties watchdog said that the claims that its decision was “a response to external pressure are untrue and ignore our longstanding and detailed internal policy.”
Earlier this week, when news of its ruling was made public, a number of commentators picked up on the suggestion that “people in different countries at RT” had been behind the move. Citing an unnamed source supposedly speaking on behalf of the NGO, Russian-language news site Mediazona gave prominence to the allegations in its coverage. This was then translated and republished by Russia-facing media outlet Meduza. Both titles were among those named by RT last week in an analysis of leaked documents detailing how the UK government orchestrates anti-Russia news coverage.
The link with ‘the Green Menace’, the outlets claimed, was a viral Twitter thread from freelance writer Katya Kazbek, who has occasionally written opinion pieces for RT. She argued that Navalny had a record of nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric, such as championing the so-called ‘Russian March’, an annual gathering of far-right nationalists. Kazbek also shared a video in which Navalny mocked shooting a Muslim woman with a pistol, in a clip intended to advocate gun ownership.
Her association with RT was made more tenuous by the fact that the freelancer has also written in the past for US state-run broadcaster RFERL’s Russian-language service Svoboda, as well as a host of other publications.Since then, a spotlight has been shone on the murky web that RT is supposedly weaving to snare Navalny’s reputation. Outlets including the UK’s Independent insinuated that Aaron Maté, a journalist for the US-based Grayzone site, who broke the story on Amnesty’s decision also had links to this news group. The nebulous association was based on the fact his Grayzone colleague is an occasional RT contributor.
The plot thickened further when a pair of notorious Russian pranksters published a candid conversation with the NGO’s team on Thursday, pretending to be Navalny’s former chief of staff Leonid Volkov. ‘Vovan and Lexus’, as the duo is known, pushed on the issue of media influence in the videoconference with three of Amnesty’s most senior staffers. One, Denis Krivosheev, assured the Potemkin activist that they “don’t speak to RT,” or give interviews or even respond to interview requests, but seemed to suggest that a regional staffer did so. That is despite the fact that the original email revealing the Navalny decision was sent to Grayzone’s Maté, not RT.
In its attempt to set the record straight later that day, Amnesty said that it had made the move after re-examining Navalny’s published statements and concluding that he had, “in the past, made comments which may have amounted to advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility.”
However, the charity still reserved some criticism for the scrutiny it has faced from the press, alleging that it “has itself been the target of misinformation campaigns by the Russian authorities and state-run media [sic].” Regardless, it says, “our ongoing activism, campaigning and research critical of the Russian government shows clearly that pandering to the Kremlin is not a part of our agenda.”
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