Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s defamation case adjourned once again – faces fine after calling WWII veteran ‘traitor’

For a second successive Friday, a court in Moscow has adjourned a libel case against Alexey Navalny. This time until next Tuesday. The Russian opposition figure is accused of defaming an elderly World War II veteran in a tweet.

During the trial, judge Vera Akimova warned Navalny multiple times for interrupting and for statements she deemed unrelated to the case at hand. The opposition figure also complained repeatedly that he’d received no answers to his questions during cross-examination. He also accused the judge of conducting an interrogation similar to what would happen in a “fascist commandant’s office.”

“I ask permission to address you not as ‘Your Honor,’ but as ‘Obersturmbannfuhrer,'” he said, telling Akimova that she would look good next to a machine gun.

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The trial follows a charge from June 2020, when Navalny called 94-year-old World War II veteran Ignat Artemenko a “corrupt lackey” and a “traitor.” The veteran had appeared in a video with an ensemble of other Russians, encouraging the public to participate in last summer’s plebiscite on proposed constitutional changes. 

In a Twitter post, Navalny called the group “the shame of the country.”

“Oh, here they are, darlings. I must admit that the team of corrupt lackeys looks rather weak. Look at them: this is the shame of the country. People without a conscience. Traitors,” he wrote.

The case was initially heard last Friday but was adjourned at the end of the working week.

The hearing was not attended by Artemenko himself, who instead presented testimony in writing, much of which was unrelated to the case and retold stories of his partisan activities in the 1940s. 

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During the session, Navalny engaged in a heated argument with Igor Kolesnikov, the veteran’s grandson. The opposition figure accused Kolesnikov of forging his grandfather’s signature, suggesting that the grandson wrote Artemenko’s statement. The court rejected Navalny’s appeal for an expert handwriting witness.

As well as Kolesnikov, the court also heard from other witnesses and experts. In particular, the lawyers interrogated Anatoly Baranov, a linguistics professor. Baronov offered the opinion that Navalny did not slander Artemenko but had simply insulted him. 

Last week, Navalny accused Artemenko’s family of “selling” their relative, telling them that they’d “burn in hell.”

Navalny is already serving time in prison after being found guilty on February 2 of breaking the conditions of a suspended sentence handed to him in 2014 for an embezzlement charge. He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years behind bars, minus ten months already served. His supporters believe the case to be politically motivated, and the original decision was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

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