Alexey Navalny will serve his two years and six months in a penal colony outside Moscow for breaching parole terms while recovering in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on February 20, 2021.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on February 20, 2021. (AFP)

Leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a penal colony where he will serve out his jail sentence, the head of Russia's prison service said.

President Vladimir Putin's most prominent opponent was this month sentenced to two years and six months in a penal colony for breaching parole terms while he recovering in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning.

"He has been transferred to where he is supposed to be under the court ruling," state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexander Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Prison Service, as saying.

Kalashnikov did not disclose the name of the prison but insisted that Navalny would serve his sentence in "absolutely normal conditions".

"I guarantee that there exists no threat to his life and health," he added.

Last week the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to release Navalny, saying his life was in danger in prison, but Moscow swiftly rejected the call.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Prison Service said she could not provide further details and was not at liberty to release personal data about convicts.

Navalny's lawyer Vadim Kobzev told AFP on Friday he was still unaware of his client's whereabouts.

Navalny's right-hand man Leonid Volkov said the opposition politician's family has not been informed of his whereabouts, expressing concern over lack of transparency.

Eva Merkacheva, a member of Moscow's public commission that monitors detainees' human rights, said she was confident Navalny had been sent to a penal colony.

"There are just no other options," she said, adding by law the opposition politician should serve his sentence in a prison not far from the capital.

Navalny spent months recovering in Germany from the attack with nerve agent Novichok that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August. Russia has denied involvement.

He was immediately arrested on return to Moscow in mid-January, and Amnesty International declared Navalny a prisoner of conscience.

This week the London-based activist group said it no longer recognised Navalny as a prisoner of conscience because of past "advocacy of hatred" comments, although it vowed to still push for his release.

Amnesty's decision sparked an outcry among Navalny supporters.

On Thursday, prominent Russian pranksters said they tricked top Amnesty directors into admitting that their decision to rescind Navalny's status of prisoner of conscience "has done a lot of damage."

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Looming EU sanctions

Navalny spent months recovering in Germany from the poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August.

Russia has denied involvement but Navalny has said it was ordered by Putin.

Navalny was arrested on return to Moscow in mid-January, sparking a wave of protests across the country and a brutal police crackdown.

Rights groups at home and abroad as well as leaders of Western countries condemned his detention and called for his immediate release.

EU foreign ministers this week agreed to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials, after Navalny's associates urged the ministers to penalise oligarchs accused of funding President Vladimir Putin's rule.

Amnesty International sparked an outcry this week by revoking his status as a prisoner of conscience, citing previous comments he made that the rights group concluded amounted to "advocacy of hatred".

Amnesty, which vowed to continue to push for his release, did not refer to specific remarks made by Navalny.

He triggered criticism however at the beginning of his career a decade ago with anti-immigrant statements and by participating in nationalist marches.

Navalny's team on Friday again criticised Amnesty, accusing it of playing the role of "dictators' voluntary assistants".

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'Tricked and humiliated' 

The pranksters known as Vovan and Lexus released a video recording of a 15-minute Teams call with Julie Verhaar, the watchdog's acting secretary general, and two other directors.

In the video, the pranksters posed as Volkov, Navalny's right-hand man, and are heard discussing the fallout from Amnesty's decision.

"We are conscious that what happened has done a lot of damage," Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said in the video.

Marie Struthers, the watchdog's director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said Amnesty wanted to launch a social media campaign to "steer the conversation away" from the group's decision and the fallout.

Vovan, whose real name is Vladimir Kuznetsov, told AFP the pair were surprised that the group's directors had agreed to speak "very quickly."

Amnesty declined to comment on the phone call.

In a statement earlier Thursday the group acknowledged that "the poor timing" of its decision "has unintentionally distracted from the campaign for Navalny's immediate release."

"We deeply regret any damage this may have caused to the campaign to free Navalny," said the statement.

Amnesty also complained that the controversy around its use of the prisoner of conscience term "has been weaponized by the Kremlin, against us and against those who are expressing critical views against the Russian government."

Volkov slammed the Amnesty leadership.

"In 2021, you can't run a charity with over 300M euro annual budget (!) and to allow yourself to be tricked and humiliated in such (a) way," he tweeted.

READ MORE: European human rights court orders 'immediate' release of Navalny

Source: AFP