City of London rejects replica of Vladimir Putin critic Alexey Navalny’s cell as artwork as ‘too political’

The replica of the cell used to hold Russian dissident Alexey Navalny (Vasilii Krestianinov)
The replica of the cell used to hold Russian dissident Alexey Navalny (Vasilii Krestianinov)

The City of London has turned down a plan to erect a replica of the cell used to hold Russian dissident Alexey Navalny amid fears it could compromise its “political neutrality”.

The art installation, proposed by human rights campaigners Lester Partners, has previously been shown in Berlin and Paris and features a four tonne metal and cement box matching the size of the 2.9-metre-high solitary cell - known as a Shizo or punishment cell - used to hold the Russian politician.

They wanted to place it near St Paul’s Cathedral for a couple of weeks in mid-May but members of the City corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee vetoed it earlier this week after council officers recommended they “reject due to political nature of the installation and insufficient time to gain planning permissions or consult with Highways”.

A report prepared for the meeting said the choice of location by the historic cathedral “would make the potential application more challenging” and added its recommendation to refuse “takes into account planning matters, CoLC’s political neutrality and additionally, the practicability of the timeline in question”.

It also concluded “due to the political nature, there may be reputational risk in relation to the Lester Partners SHIZO application”.

Navalny is serving 11-and-a-half years in prison on charges ranging from fraud to contempt of court which his supporters say have been trumped up in a bid to silence his criticism of the Kremlin and the Putin regime.

His supporters say the regime has put him in solitary confinement – in a ShIZO cell - 16 times in the last nine months spending 91 days there last year.

They said: “Shizo is the harshest punishment in the legal prison hierarchy.

“There is almost no ventilation. The bunk is fastened to the wall for the day. You can only get hot water three times a day — just one glass, together with a spoon and a bowl, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Visits and parcels from the outside are forbidden. You are only given pen and paper for 35 minutes a day, and you only get one book for the entire period of detention.”

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “The application was rejected because of the physical scale of the installation and as there was insufficient time to initiate and complete any required planning permissions before the proposed installation date.

“We have helped the applicant by advising them to approach several London boroughs who may be able to host the installation, making clear that each area handles its own planning matters.”