Poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will spend 30 days in detention after a court hearing in a Moscow police station Monday, his spokesman said.
The decision was handed down less than 24 hours after the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin was detained on his return from Germany, where he was treated for a poisoning with what scientists said was Novichok, a Russian-made chemical weapon. He has accused the Russian state of trying to kill him, which it denies.
Navalny was detained due to alleged violations of a suspended prison sentence — he says the charge is false. He was due to go to trial on Jan. 29 and faces a possible three-and-a-half year jail sentence.
Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter Monday morning that a trial had suddenly begun at the police station where he was being held, in the Moscow suburb of Khimki.
While notionally a pre-trial hearing to review Navalny’s detention and not the full trial, the event’s swift and unexpected execution aroused fears among his supporters.
Yarmysh called the process a “mockery of justice.”
She tweeted a video of a perplexed Navalny reacting to the hearing.
“I don’t understand what is going on. I was brought out before the cameras one minute ago, while meeting with my lawyers. I was then brought here into this hearing,” he said.
Ivan Zhdanov, head of Navalny’s campaigning organization, said on Twitter that prosecutors on Monday applied for Navalny to remain in prison for 30 days, and then for the suspended jail term to be made a full sentence. That would keep the activist in prison until 2024.
Yarmysh confirmed in a tweet Monday afternoon that Navalny will in fact be detained for 30 days until Feb. 15, saying it’s not clear where the politician will be kept for the next month.
Shortly after, Yarmysh shared a video with a message from Navalny from the police station, in which he urged people to take to the streets and “not be afraid.”
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Earlier on Monday, one of Navalny’s lawyers, Vadim Kobzev, tweeted a photo of a last-minute formal notice from the local police chief announcing the hearing — it lacked the usual letterhead and formatting, suggesting it was hastily thrown together.
Navalny’s detention immediately upon his return to Russia, and general treatment by the Russian government, triggered condemnation from foreign officials.
Jake Sullivan, one of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top aides, told Moscow to free Navalny.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to take a jibe against President Putin, saying in a tweet: “Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents.”
The foreign ministers of Germany, Britain, France and Italy all called for Navalny’s release. Lithuania said on Sunday it would ask the E.U. to swiftly impose new sanctions on Russia. Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said he wanted the bloc to discuss possible sanctions.
In response to widespread international criticism of Navalny’s treatment, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Facebook that critics must “respect international law.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the criticism was designed to distract from countries’ domestic problems.
Reuters contributed to this report
Patrick Smith reported from London, Matt Bodner reported from Moscow.