Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is standing in a Moscow courtroom on Saturday. The court declined an appeal against his sentence. Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP Hide caption
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
A Moscow court has denied an appeal by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny against his prison sentence, the latest legal defeat for the man who has emerged as the Kremlin’s most vocal critic.
Navalny, 44, got arrested in January after his return from Germany, where he had recovered from a near-fatal poisoning which he and the Western government had blamed the Kremlin. The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied the allegation and sentenced Navalny to 32 months in prison earlier this month. He had violated the provisions of a probation agreement, which was tied to a 2014 embezzlement conviction. Navalny has described this case and others against him as politically motivated.
Speaking from a cage in the courtroom on Saturday, Navalny attempted to challenge the court’s finding that he was on parole. He found that he was recovering in Germany under the glow of an international firestorm.
“I don’t want to show off much, but the whole world knew where I was,” said Navalny. “After I recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home.”
The judge dismissed the argument, but reduced his sentence by six weeks and ruled that the month and a half that Navalny spent under house arrest in 2015 count towards his sentence.
Navalny’s case has sparked opposition movement in Russia Waves of protest in cities across the country in January. The Russian government responded to the demonstrations with a mass display of violence and detained an estimated 11,000 people over consecutive weekends.
But even from prison, the anti-corruption crusader managed to frustrate the Russian authorities. In January, his team published a damning investigation accusing Putin of corruption and detailing the construction of a lavish Black Sea palace allegedly illegally built for the Russian leader. The Kremlin has denied that Putin owns such a palace and has called the investigation “pure nonsense”.
Navalny has also received support from large parts of the international community. Late last month, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken urged the Russian government to release Navalny, and in a judgment on Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights followed suit, citing “the nature and extent of the risk to the applicant’s life”. Russia responded to orders from the Strasbourg, France-based court of which Moscow is a member – by calling the judgment unlawful.
Shortly before the verdict on Saturday, Navalny approached the court and urged his supporters to continue their fight against corruption, to quote from the Bible and even to compare Putin with the villain of “Harry Potter”.
“The government’s job is to scare you and then convince you that you are alone,” said Navalny. “Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off.”
“To live is to risk everything,” he said. “Otherwise you are just a sluggish part of randomly assembled molecules that drift wherever the universe blows you.”
Navalny was later tried on Saturday on a separate case accused of defaming a World War II veteran – a charge that comes with a possible fine of 950,000 rubles, or approximately $ 13,000.
The libel case comes from a pro-Kremlin video released last year attempting to garner support for constitutional changes that could keep Putin in power by 2036. Navalny called the video’s participants – which included actors, other celebrities, athletes, and a war veteran – “traitors” and “people without a conscience” but he has dismissed the libel allegations against him, describing them as part of a greater effort to undermine him.