Family of jailed Kremlin critic Navalny file lawsuit over visiting rights

(Reuters) – Relatives of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have filed a class-action lawsuit against the penal colony where he is being held over its refusal to let them visit him.

The Navalny family intends to take the case as far as the Constitutional Court, the politician said on Monday in a post on his official Instagram page, which is run by his lawyers and allies.

“I am a convict. And they never cease to remind me that I am ‘like everyone else.’ But I’ve had 0 (zero) visits in the last year. 0 (zero) long visits, 0 (zero) short visits and 2 (two) phone calls 11 months ago,” Navalny said.

The post names Navalny’s wife Yulia, his parents and his children, Dasha and Zakhar, as the plaintiffs.

Navalny, 47, is serving sentences totalling 11-1/2 years in the IK-6 penal colony in Melekhovo, about 235 km (145 miles) east of Moscow, on fraud and other charges that he says were trumped up to silence his criticism of President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin routinely declines to comment on his case, saying it is a matter for the prison service. Reuters has requested comment from the prison authorities.

A new trial for alleged “extremist” activity began against Navalny last month, which could extend his prison term by decades. Acquittals of opposition figures are practically unheard of in Russia.

Navalny has filed numerous complaints against the penal colony since his imprisonment, all of which have been rejected. One complaint over prison officials’ refusal to grant him writing equipment made it to Russia’s Supreme Court.

Prisoners are “as a general rule” entitled to three long and three short visits per year in penal colonies like the one in Melekhovo, as well as at least six phone calls, Navalny said in the Instagram post.

“The constitution guarantees the rights of my children – they have the right to see me, and I am obliged to participate in their upbringing. The constitution guarantees the rights of my elderly parents, I am obliged, as best I can, to take care of them,” Navalny wrote, noting that his parents were barred from entering the courtroom during his latest trial in June.

(Reporting by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)