A Moscow court has rejected Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s appeal against a three-and-a-half-year jail term, handed down for breaking the conditions of a suspended sentence over a contested 2014 embezzlement charge.
He was found guilty two weeks ago, following a dramatic sequence of events when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been living since an alleged poisoning attempt last summer.
Moscow City Court Judge Dmitry Balashov agreed with the prosecutor that the judgment should be upheld, and Navalny should be sent to prison, with the suspended sentence converted to a real custodial spell. Balashov took almost two months off the term, which means two and a half years, in practice, for Navalny, allowing also for time already served.
The three-and-a-half year sentence was initially handed down six years ago, after Navalny was found guilty of embezzling 30 million rubles ($400,000) from two companies, including the French cosmetics brand Yves Rocher. Navalny claims the case was politically motivated, and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has called the conviction “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”
At the time the sentence was still suspended, the activist was in Germany recovering from an alleged poisoning in Siberia last August. However, according to a report published by his Berlin doctors in the British medical journal The Lancet, Navalny had mostly recovered by that time. According to the federal jail service FSIN, this means he should have been able to attend his appointment in Moscow.
Just as in his previous hearings, Navalny’s court case was attended by diplomats from many third parties, as well as representatives from western media outlets. However, this time, there were no protests outside the courthouse.
According to the state prosecutor Ekaterina Frolova, Russian authorities don’t consider Navalny’s rehabilitation to have been part of his treatment, and so concluded that he was hiding from the system.
The opposition figure argued that he did not break the terms of his suspended sentence as “the whole world knew” where he was.
“If I were hiding, I wouldn’t be standing in this beautiful aquarium,” he said, referring to the glass enclosure defendants are kept in.
In response, Frolova claimed that the recent failure to register with the FSIN wasn’t a one-off, saying that Navalny had violated rules seven times in 2020, prior to his alleged poisoning, and dozens of times before that.
In his final speech to the court, Navalny quoted philosophers, the bible, and even Harry Potter, before concluding with “Russia will be happy.”
The appeal is the first in a double-header of court cases for Navalny on Saturday. After the embezzlement appeal, he is expected to hear a verdict in a defamation case, after comments he made about a 94-year-old WWII veteran, calling him a “corrupt lackey” and a “traitor.” Ignat Artemenko had appeared in an RT video with a group of other Russians encouraging voters to participate in the country’s nationwide poll on proposed constitutional amendments. Navalny called the ensemble “the shame of the country.” If found guilty of defamation, he could be fined 950,000 rubles ($12,800).
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