Alexei Navalny, the main opponent of the Kremlin, who has been targeted by several legal proceedings, his prison sentence was confirmed on appeal on Saturday, but was reduced slightly to two and a half years, and now faces the risk of being transferred to a labor camp.
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This is Mr. Navalny’s first long sentence confirmed on appeal during nearly a decade of disputes with the authorities.
After returning to Russia in January after a period of convalescence in Germany after being poisoned by President Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny was arrested upon his arrival. Then, on February 2, he was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
On Saturday, a Moscow judge reduced that sentence slightly by a month and a half, given the time the opponent had spent under house arrest, according to an AFP journalist who attended the hearing.
In the end, the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist will have to serve a sentence of about two and a half years in prison. In this case, justice has converted a suspended prison sentence for fraud dating back to 2014 into severe punishment, for violating judicial review.
The Bible and Harry Potter
Present at the session, with a smiling face, the opponent rejected the accusation, saying that he had never wanted to evade the Russian authorities by going to Germany, and warned them against his return.
He told the judge, “I bought a ticket and told everyone that I would go home (…) It’s ridiculous.”
Prosecutor Elizaveta Frolova responded, saying the opponent had “openly and impudently” defied the law.
“Our country is built on injustice,” Navalny said before the verdict. He claimed to be a believer. He quoted the Bible: “Blessed are the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
He also mentioned a passage from Harry Potter about “the importance of” not being “lonely” because that’s what Voldemort, the famous young wizard’s enemy, wants.
A Moscow court spokeswoman told AFP on Friday that prison services would be free, if confirmed, to transport the opponent to a labor camp.
From the legacy of the Soviet Union, most prison sentences in Russia are carried out in concentration camps, sometimes located far from everything. Inmates’ work, usually in sewing or furniture workshops, is mandatory there.
One of Mr. Navalny’s attorneys, Vadim Kupzev, denounced the “anticipated” decision, and said his client would appeal against the ruling.
For his part, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that this sentence would not change Russia’s “rich and pluralistic” political scene before the legislative elections in September.
A second trial is underway
Alexei Navalny also appeared on Saturday afternoon before another judge in a trial for “defaming” a veteran of World War II.
The prosecution demanded a fine of 950,000 rubles in this case (about 16,000 Canadian dollars) and demanded that the opponent’s residency be transferred to a prison.
Navalny denounced, “You insult and insult veterans by using this game as a puppet.”
These two sessions come as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) this week requested the activist’s release, citing a threat to his life. Moscow rejected this decision immediately.
Alexei Navalny, whose arrest in January led to three days of pent-up demonstrations, denounced measures put in place from scratch and spent previous hearings challenging the court.
According to him, the Kremlin wants to put him in prison to silence him, after he failed to kill him by poisoning him last summer, which Moscow denies.
There are other cases pending against Mr. Navalny. The fraud investigation, which carries a 10-year prison sentence, is specifically aimed at him.
The European Union and the United States intensified calls for his release, while his collaborators urged the West to punish Russian officials close to Vladimir Putin.
Moscow considers it an “interference” and has threatened Europeans with revenge.