A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced prominent Russian opponent Alexei Navalni to prison for repeatedly violating the terms of a 2014 fraud sentence and the probation imposed at the time for failing to appear for judicial reviews.
The judge has subtracted almost a year from that sentence for the time he spent in a house arrest that he served at the time. The effective penalty stays like this in two years and eight months. The ruling is in defiance of repeated international calls that insisted on Navalni’s release and may inflame the already high tension between the Kremlin.and supporters of the anti-corruption activist.
The authorities have deployed large numbers of riot police in the center of Moscow and Saint Petersburg and have charged with great force against the people who have taken to the streets peacefully to protest the verdict. There are more than a thousand arrests, according to the specialized organization Ovd-Info.
After hearing the sentence, the prominent opponent, who has passed the trial making gestures of affection to his wife, Yulia Naválnaya, present in the room, has only managed to dedicate a few words to him. “Don’t be sad, everything will be fine,” he remarked before they took him from the room, when Naválnaya broke down crying.
His lawyers have informed that they will appeal the sentence until the last instance. Navalni is expected to be transferred this week to a penal colony (a type of jail where inmates generally have to work, among other things).
The conviction has drawn criticism from the United States and the European Union, who have demanded the immediate release of the opponent and have been deeply concerned about the drift of the case, whose ruling comes, also on the eve of the visit to Moscow of the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell.
The Kremlin had already stressed this Tuesday morning that it would not accept “sermons” from anyone on the matter, or any kind of interference.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption activist, who was arrested after returning to Moscow from Germany, where he recovered from a serious poisoning suffered this summer in Siberia for which he blames directly on Russian President Vladimir Putin, has faced trial with all the letters on the table: knowing that he was most likely convicted.
Thus, he has used his sight to launch an impetuous political speech. From the glass cabin in which the defendants traditionally sit, the dissident has assured that he will continue to fight and charged against Putin: “As much as he pretends to be a great geopolitician, his main bitterness is that he will go down in history as a poisoner.”
Mass protests in support of the opposition leader in recent weeks have not achieved their goal. Nor was the criticism and pressure from Western countries that had demanded the release of Navalni, who has become the most visible critic against the Russian president and the man who has managed to promote the largest mobilizations of the last decade.
The Russian authorities, who have also prosecuted their main allies, had already indicated that they would not be swayed by public pressure. And they have fulfilled it. Navalni is now cut off not only from politics – he was already vetoed in the 2018 presidential elections – but also from the streets.
The sentence can make the social mobilizations deflate, but also give even more height to the opposition and boost the protests.
“I really hope that this process is not perceived by people as a sign that they should be afraid,” he insisted before Judge Navalni, dressed in a navy blue sweater with a hood. The anti-corruption activist has praised the tens of thousands of people who have taken to the streets in numerous Russian cities, despite threats from the authorities and harsh arrests, and has assured that the political struggle will not stop.
And he has again called for new protests. This Tuesday, dozens of his followers have come to support him on a crucial day in the vicinity of the Moscow Municipal Court, which has dawned completely surrounded by riot police and the police.
The fact that the case behind the charges against the prominent opponent was declared “unfair and arbitrary” by the European Court of Human Rights in 2017 has further increased the unrest among Russian citizens. The Strasbourg-based court convicted Russia of violating the right to a fair trial of Alexei Navalni and his brother, Oleg.
Both were convicted in the same process for embezzlement (about 500,000 euros) in two Russian firms, including the branch in the Eurasian country of the French cosmetics giant Yves Rocher.
Strasbourg ruled that Russia should pay each of the Navalni brothers 10,000 euros in damages and reimburse their legal costs: 45,000 euros for Alexei Navalni and 18,000 euros for Oleg. Navalni did not have to go to prison, but received what is called a “suspended sentence”; his brother Oleg did serve the full sentence: three and a half years in a penal colony (a type of jail in which resources generally must work).
Despite the antiquity of the process and the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, the case continued to remain there, like a bullet in the bedroom against the opponent.
The ruling stated that Navalni had to remain clean for six years after the verdict for the sentence to be definitively annulled, but the opponent has since accumulated other crimes in his file, especially related to his participation and organization of anti-Kremlin protests.
So the case called Yves Rocher never stopped being on the fridge. Until the end of last year, when the process was resurrected and led to a new court case against the opponent.
Navalni has responded with a certain irony in the trial to the accusations of the Prosecutor’s Office, which defended that there is no justification for the opponent not to go to the judicial reviews established on his case and has tried to argue not only that he already breached the appointments before leave the country but also that he had no way of knowing that the activist was in Germany, where he was unknowingly transferred on a medicalized plane.
“He was in a coma,” Navalni remarked. “Could you explain to me how I could have fulfilled my obligations better? First I was unconscious, then conscious, later I had to learn to walk again ”, said the prominent opponent,
Navalni’s lawyers have argued that they were not notified that the activist was wanted until a few hours before he was placed on the list of people wanted by the Russian authorities. Since he regained consciousness, the opponent had always assured that he intended to return to Russia.
And he did so despite the assurance that he would be arrested as soon as he set foot in Moscow and that the probability of being convicted was immense.
In the armored hearing on Tuesday, the judge has attended to the proposal of the prosecutor, who had demanded that the original sentence of three and a half years in prison regime that was suspended in 2014 be restored, although the time that the opponent served under house arrest.
The outrage over the new Navalni trial, who has been serving 30 days in preventive detention since January 18, added to public discontent over corruption, inequality and a difficult economic situation, have ignited protests against the Kremlin, which have shook Russia the last two weekends .
On Sunday, an unprecedented police deployment in the main cities of Russia and the harsh repression of the security forces did not manage, however, to reduce the demonstrations, which ended with more than 5,100 detainees throughout the country, some under heavy violence, the use of batons and electric guns.
Among those arrested is Yulia Naválnaya, the wife of the opponent, who was fined 20,000 rubles (220 euros) for participating in the demonstration, and who was present this Tuesday at the trial against her husband. “I saw you on television in my cell.
They say you are constantly violating public order. Bad girl! But I’m proud of you, ”Navalni told him from the aquarium on one side of the wood-paneled courtroom, where the opponent has remained throughout the trial.
Navalni, who has become known for his revelations of the corruption of Russia’s political and economic elite, has become Vladimir Putin’s most visible critic. To him and to his supposed multimillionaire palace he dedicated precisely his latest report published on YouTube, which has spurred the protests.