A court in Moscow has turned down an appeal by the 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, was arrested in January after returning home from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning that he and Western governments have blamed on the Kremlin. The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied the accusation, and earlier this month sentenced Navalny to 32 months in prison, saying he had broken the terms of a probation agreement tied to a 2014 embezzlement conviction. Navalny has called that case, and others against him, politically motivated.
Speaking from inside a courtroom cage on Saturday, Navalny sought to challenge the court’s determination that he was in violation of his parole, noting that he was convalescing in Germany under the glare of an international firestorm.
“I don’t want to show off a lot, but the whole world knew where I was,” Navalny said. “Once I’d recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home.”
The judge rejected the argument, but did abbreviate his sentence by six weeks, ruling that the month-and-a-half that Navalny spent under house arrest in 2015 can count toward his prison term.
Navalny’s case has galvanized the opposition movement in Russia, sparking waves of protest in cities and towns across the country in January. The Russian government responded to the demonstrations with a mass show of force, detaining an estimated 11,000 people over the course of back-to-back weekends.
Yet even from prison the anti-corruption crusader has managed to frustrate the Russian authorities. In January, his team released a scathing investigation accusing Putin of corruption and detailing the construction of a lavish Black Sea palace allegedly built for the Russian leader using ill-gotten funds. The Kremlin has denied that Putin owns any such palace, calling the investigation “pure nonsense.”
Navalny has also found support from across much of the international community. Late last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the Russian government to release Navalny, and in a ruling on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights followed suit, citing “the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life.” Russia responded to the order by the Strasbourg, France-based court — of which Moscow is a member — by calling the ruling unlawful.
Addressing the court just before the verdict on Saturday, Navalny urged his supporters to press on in their fight against corruption, quoting from the Bible and even comparing Putin at one point to the villain from “Harry Potter.”
“The government’s task is to scare you and then persuade you that you are alone,” Navalny said. “Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off.”
“To live is to risk it all,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.”
Navalny was due back in court later on Saturday in a separate case for which he faces charges of defaming a World War II veteran — a charge that carries a possible fine of 950,000 rubles, or roughly $13,000.
The libel case stems from a pro-Kremlin video put out last year that sought to rally support for constitutional changes that could keep Putin in power until 2036. Navalny called participants in the video — which included actors, other celebrities, sports figures and one war veteran — “traitors” and “people without conscience,” but he has rejected the slander charges against him, describing them as part of a larger effort to undermine him.