The Moscow court rejects opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s appeal against his prison sentence
A Moscow court on Saturday denied the appeal of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny on his sentence, despite the country facing a prison sentenceliberate the Kremlin’s most prominent enemy.
A few hours later, in a separate case, a judge ordered Navalny to pay a fine for defaming a WWII veteran.
During the first trial, Navalny urged the Russians to stand against the Kremlin in a fiery speech that mixed references to the Bible and “Harry Potter”.
44-year-old Navalny, a crusader against corruption and the vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 after returning from Germany, where he was recovering for five months from nerve agent poisoning, which he accuses the Kremlin. The Russian authorities have denied the allegation.
Earlier this month, Navalny was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for violating his probation requirements while recovering in Germany. He appealed the sentence and asked for his release. Instead, a Moscow City Court judge reduced the sentence to just over 2 1/2 years and withdrew the month and a half that Navalny had been under house arrest in early 2015.
The verdict comes from a 2014 embezzlement conviction, which Navalny rejected as fabricated and which the European Court of Human Rights ruled to be illegal.
Navalny was held in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison, but Russian news reported that after losing his appeal, he would likely be transferred to a prison in western Russia in the next few days to serve his sentence.
His arrest and imprisonment sparked a wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a comprehensive crackdown in arresting around 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or sentenced to between seven and 15 days in prison.
In his speech at the hearing, Navalny referred to the Bible as well as “Harry Potter” and the animated sitcom “Rick and Morty” when he urged the Russians to resist pressure from the authorities and help the Kremlin build a fairer and more equitable to encourage wealthier countries.
“The government’s job is to scare you and then convince you that you are alone,” he said. “Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off,” he added in a reference to Putin.
“Life means risking everything,” he said, quoting Rick and Morty. “Otherwise you are just a sluggish part of randomly assembled molecules that drift wherever the universe blows you.”
Navalny also turned to the judge and prosecutor, arguing that they could live a much better life in a new Russia.
“Imagine how wonderful life would be without lying all the time,” he said. “Imagine how great it would be to work as a judge … if nobody could call you and give you instructions on what judgments to make.”
He insisted that he could not report to the authorities in accordance with his probation requirements while recovering from his poisoning in Germany, and stressed that he was returning to Russia immediately after his health.
“I wasn’t hiding,” he said. “The whole world knew where I was.”
Navalny said he was previously an atheist but believed in God, adding that his beliefs helped him face his challenges. He said he believed the biblical saying that those who hunger and thirst for justice are blessed and that he does not regret wanting to return to Russia.
“Although our country is built on injustice and we are all constantly exposed to injustice … we also see that millions of people, tens of millions of people, want justice,” Navalny told the court. “They want justice and sooner or later they will have it.”
When asked about the implications of Navalny’s prison sentence on Russian politics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the country’s “rich and diverse” political scene will develop regardless of the verdict.
Russia has rejected Western criticism of Navalny’s arrest and crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.
In a judgment on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to release Navalny, citing “the nature and extent of the risk to the applicant’s life”. The Strasbourg-based court found that Navalny had denied the Russian authorities’ argument that they had taken sufficient measures to keep his life and well-being in custody following the attack by the nerve agents.
The Russian government has rejected the European Court of Justice’s request, calling the judgment illegal and “inadmissible” to interfere in Russia’s affairs. The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Russian Ministry of Justice sent a letter to the court on Saturday asking it to revise its order.
In the past, Moscow has complied with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights granting compensation to Russian citizens who have challenged judgments in Russian courts. However, the European court never asked to release a convict.
As a sign of its longstanding annoyance at the judgments of the Strasbourg court, Russia passed a constitutional amendment last year declaring the priority of national legislation over international law. The Russian authorities could now use this provision to reject the ECHR decision.
After Navalny lost his appeal, he had a second trial for defamation of a World War II veteran and was fined 850,000 rubles (about $ 11,500). Prosecutors asked for a fine of 950,000 rubles ($ 13,000).
Navalny called the 94-year-old veteran and others featured in a pro-Kremlin video last year “corrupt henchmen”, “people without a conscience” and “traitors”. He denied the libel allegations, describing them as part of the official effort to belittle him.
Navalny said at the hearing that his accusers “will burn in hell”.
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