Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny jailed – POLITICO

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MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was on Tuesday sentenced to more than two-and-a-half years in prison on charges that he violated probation while he was recuperating in Germany after being poisoned.

Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon his return from Germany where he was treated after the attack with a nerve agent, which he has blamed on the Kremlin. 

There was a heavy riot police presence outside the Moscow City Court, and more than 250 people who had come to support the Kremlin critic were detained, according to data from the OVD police monitoring website.

Russia’s prison authority FSIN has accused the Kremlin critic of violating parole by staying in Germany after he recovered from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in August. The suspended sentence dates back to an embezzlement case that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled as unfair. 

In court, Navalny’s two defense lawyers reiterated their argument that they had provided the Russian authorities with a medical certificate from Berlin’s Charité hospital in December, detailing Navalny’s condition and treatment. They also said the letter mentioned the address of the hotel in Germany where Navalny had been staying.

Nonetheless, a FSIN representative claimed the prison authority had no idea of Navalny’s whereabouts, and accused him of “hiding from authorities.”

The atmosphere in the courtroom was tense, with an exasperated Navalny interrupting the proceedings to tell the prison authority representative: “Tell me please what more I could have done? I was in a coma, then in intensive care, then I sent you a letter. You had my address and telephone number.” 

“Why are you lying and misleading the court saying you don’t know where I was?”

The opposition leader followed the hearing from a glass cage facing a desk behind which sat a female prosecutor and a male representative of the prison authority. At times he visibly scoffed at their words, including when the prison authority spokesperson said they had not taken any action against Navalny earlier, despite him having violated parole some 50 times in recent years, because the hope was he would “better his ways.” 

Navalny’s wife Yulia followed the proceedings from the first row. 

Tuesday’s hearing came after tens of thousands took to the streets in cities across Russia for a second consecutive weekend on Sunday to protest Navalny’s arrest. The Russian authorities detained more than 5,000 people and more than 80 journalists, sometimes using force and tasers.

More than a dozen Western diplomats also attended Tuesday’s hearing — which was open to the media but closed to film crews and photographers In a Facebook statement, Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova slammed their presence as an attempt at interfering with Russia’s domestic affairs. 

The jailing of Navalny was quickly condemned by politicians from across the globe.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement that London “calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Alexey Navalny and all of the peaceful protesters and journalists arrested over the last two weeks.

“Today’s perverse ruling, targeting the victim of a poisoning rather than those responsible, shows Russia is failing to meet the most basic commitments expected of any responsible member of the international community.”

In a tweet, French President Emmanuel Macron described the court decision as “unacceptable” and called for Navalny’s “immediate release.” He said respect for human rights and democratic freedom was “not negotiable.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the ruling was “a bitter blow against fundamental freedoms & the rule of law.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that Washington is “deeply concerned” by the decision to jail Navalny and called for the Russian government “to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she condemned the sentencing “in the strongest possible terms” while the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the ruling “runs counter Russia’s international commitments on rule of law & fundamental freedoms.” Borrell is due to travel to Russia on Thursday. According to a press statement released before Tuesday’s court ruling, the “poisoning, detention and arrest of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, and the concerns over fundamental freedoms and human rights in Russia more broadly” will be Borrell’s agenda.

“We do not accept his sentence — justice must not be politicised,” tweeted European Council President Charles Michel.

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