Newsdeck

JAIL SENTENCE

Navalny urges people to oppose the ‘war criminals’ in Putin’s regime

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on 20 February 2021. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Getty Images)

A Russian court on Tuesday sentenced jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny to nine years in a high-security prison in a ruling that will keep President Vladimir Putin’s top critic sidelined amid a harsh crackdown on the opposition.

Alexei Navalny, who is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence that the European Court of Human Rights called politically motivated, in a series of tweets called on people to oppose the “war criminals” in Putin’s regime who were behind the invasion of Ukraine, which has plunged Russia into economic crisis and international isolation.

“The best support for me and other political prisoners is not sympathy and kind words, but actions,” Navalny said on Twitter. “Any activity against the deceitful and thievish Putin’s regime.”

The conviction comes as Russia has clamped down on dissent since the start of the war a month ago, with Putin labelling those opposed to the invasion as “traitors”. This week Russia banned Facebook and Instagram as “extremist”, and the authorities have blocked or shut down independent media to control access to information.

Opposition ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter that the new sentence will be added to his previous one, meaning Navalny will be in prison for about 12 years total.

Judge Margarita Kotova of Moscow’s Lefortovo court read the sentence that found Navalny guilty of fraud and contempt of court, Interfax reported from the trial. Prosecutors had sought 13 years in prison.

Navalny stood trial in his prison about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Moscow due to what the authorities said were Covid-19 restrictions, but has until now been able to post on social media via his lawyers.

After the sentencing, Navalny’s lawyers, Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev, were detained by police as they spoke with journalists, allegedly for blocking traffic. The lawyers were later released without charges, Tass reported.

Navalny (45) has been in detention since January 2021, when he returned to Russia after recovering abroad from a near-fatal attack involving a nerve-agent that he and Western governments blamed on Putin’s secret services. The Kremlin denies any involvement in the assassination attempt in Siberia.

Putin has been in power since 2000, the longest rule since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and has become increasingly intolerant of dissent. Last year, after spearheading amendments to the Constitution, he signed a law that could potentially keep him in office until 2036.

‘Spurious Charges’
The US strongly condemns “the Russian Federation’s orchestration of a sham trial to convict Alexei Navalny on further spurious charges”, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington. He called it “the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures”.

Navalny’s supporters and human rights defenders say Putin is behind the push to keep him silent.

“This sentence is predictable but nonetheless shocking,” said Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Marie Struthers. “I applaud Navalny’s commitment to challenging corruption and other abuses, even in the face of years behind bars.”

Russian authorities have accused Navalny of acting as a Western agent and banned his organisations as extremist after his detention, prompting most of his key aides to flee the country to avoid arrest. However, Navalny remained defiant after the sentencing.

“Fighting against censorship and bringing the truth to the people of Russia has remained our priority,” Navalny wrote on Twitter. “The Kremlin smashes the media, and in response we create new ones.”

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