Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been abruptly transferred from the prison where he is serving an 11-1/2 year sentence to an undisclosed location, nearly two years since he was poisoned with what the West said was a nerve agent.
Navalny, by far Russia's most prominent opposition leader, casts President Vladimir Putin's Russia as a dystopian state run by thieves and criminals where wrong is cast as right and judges are in fact representatives of a doomed elite.
Navalny's top aide informed about the transfer on the Telegram app on Tuesday.
Just last month, Navalny lambasted Putin via video link in a Russian court, casting the Kremlin chief as a madman who started a "stupid war" that was butchering the innocent people of both Ukraine and Russia.
When his lawyer arrived at Correctional Colony No. 2, a prison camp in Pokrov, 119 km (74 miles) east of Moscow, he was told: "There is no such convict here," according to Navalny's chief of staff Leonid Volkov.
"Where Alexei is now, and which colony he is being taken to, we don't know," Volkov said in a statement on Telegram.
Navalny's spokeswoman said there was speculation that he was being taken to the high-security penal colony IK-6 Melekhovo near Vladimir, about 250 km (155 miles) east of Moscow.
Russia's prison service could not be reached for immediate comment.
"The problem with his transfer to another colony is not only that the high-security colony is much scarier: it is more that we don't know where Alexei is," his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said.
"He is one-to-one with the system that has already tried to kill him."
He earned admiration from the disparate Russian opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany where he underwent treatment for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia.
On his return he was jailed for parole violations. Russia denies Navalny's claims that Russia's secret police poisoned him with Novichok.
On 24 March, Navalny was sentenced to a further nine years in prison for fraud and contempt of court. The opposition leader says the charges against him are fabricated and aimed at thwarting his political ambitions.
The judge ordered that Navalny be transferred to a maximum-security prison, where his rights to visits and correspondence will be reduced.
Navalny's political network has been largely dismantled since his jailing, having been banned as an "extremist" organisation. Senior aides and organisers have either been jailed or forced into exile.
Navalny said two weeks ago that he had been charged in a new criminal case with creating an extremist organisation and inciting hatred towards the authorities, offences that carry a maximum jail term of 15 more years.