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Moscow Court Upholds Prison Term for Kremlin Critic Navalny

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The judge rejected Navalny's appeal of a Feb. 2 ruling

A Moscow court on Saturday upheld a ruling to jail the Kremlin's most prominent opponent, Alexei Navalny, sealing his first lengthy prison sentence after a decade of legal battles with Russian authorities.

Judge Dmitry Balashov dismissed Navalny's appeal against a decision to imprison him for violating the terms of a suspended sentence received for embezzlement.

Navalny was ordered on Feb. 2 to serve the time in a penal colony for breaching his parole terms while he was in Germany recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

The anti-corruption campaigner appeared in court Saturday inside a glass cage for defendants, wearing a plaid shirt, smiling and flashing the V for victory symbol.

In a closing address that often broke from his usual sarcastic tone, Navalny referenced the Bible and said he had no doubts about his decision to return to Russia.

"The Bible says: 'Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied,'" he told the court.

"I have no regrets that I am back."

He also quoted from a character in the Harry Potter books, saying it was "important not to feel alone" because that was what the series' villain Voldemort wanted.

He described the legal process to jail him as "absurd" and called on Russians to take action to make the country a better place.

"Russia should be not only free, but also happy," Navalny said.

Prosecutors lashed out at Navalny, saying he acted as if he was above the law and had "an exclusive right to do as he pleases".

The judge decided however to count six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, so he will now be imprisoned for just over two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

The ruling against one of the most prominent players in Russian political life came just hours before Navalny was back in court on defamation charges.

A judge is expected Saturday to decide whether to fine Navalny the equivalent of $13,000 for calling a World War II veteran a "traitor" on Twitter last year.

Prosecutors also asked for him to be jailed on the same 2014 fraud conviction because the tweet was posted while he was serving the suspended sentence.

The 94-year-old veteran appeared in a video that Navalny derided for promoting constitutional reforms, passed last year, that could allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.

"One day of this trial costs much more than the veteran got in the last four years from the very state that dares to claim it cares about veterans," Navalny said at the defamation hearing Saturday.

Western pressure for release

Supporters of the outspoken opposition figure say the cases are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.

The Kremlin said it had nothing to do with Navalny's court cases and that the decision to reject his appeal would not alter Russia's political landscape in the run-up to parliamentary elections later this year.

"Political life will be rich and multifaceted," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Russia has come under increasing Western pressure to release Navalny since he was detained on arrival at a Moscow airport in January.

He had spent months recovering in Germany from the attack with Novichok that he blames on the Kremlin. Russia has repeatedly denied involvement.

His arrest sparked large demonstrations across the country while the European Union threatened to impose new sanctions on Moscow.

Europe's rights court ruled this week that Russia must immediately release Navalny, a motion swiftly brushed aside by the justice ministry.

EU foreign ministers, who are considering fresh sanctions over Navalny's arrest, are due to meet with two top Navalny aides in Brussels on Sunday.

the Moscow Times © 2021


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