Russian court on Tuesday convicted jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny on new fraud charges, according to his allies, in a ruling that may keep President Vladimir Putin’s top critic in a maximum security prison for 13 years.
Navalny, who is currently serving a two-and-a-half year sentence that the European Court of Human Rights called politically motivated, has used his appearances during the trial to denounce Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has plunged Russia into economic crisis and international isolation.
The conviction comes amid a harsh crackdown on dissent since the start of the war a month ago, with Putin labeling those opposed to the invasion as “traitors.” This week Russia banned Facebook and Instagram as “extremist” and the authorities have blocked or shut down independent media in order to control access to information.
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“It’s the duty of every person now to oppose this war,” Navalny told the court in his final statement. The invasion of Ukraine will result in “our country’s collapse and disintegration,” he said.
According to his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh, Navalny was due to be freed next year. However, he could be moved to a far more isolated penal colony which will make it difficult for him to communicate with supporters.
According to his assistant Ivan Zhdanov, the judge found Navalny guilty in fraud and also faces contempt of court charges. His sentence will be announced after the judge Margarita Kotova of Moscow’s Lefortovo court finishes reading her ruling.
Because of what authorities called Covid-19 restrictions (100 km/60 miles from Moscow), he stood trial from his remote prison. He has since been able, through his lawyers, to upload to social media.
Navalny, 45, has been in detention since January 2021, when he returned to Russia after recovering abroad from a near-fatal attack involving a nerve-agent that he and Western governments blamed on Putin’s secret services. The Kremlin has denied that it was involved in the Siberia assassination plot.
Putin, who has been at the helm since 2000 has enjoyed the longest reign since Josef Stalin was dictator. He has also become more intolerant of any form of opposition. Russian authorities accused Navalny, accusing him of being a Western agent. They also banned Navalny’s organizations as extremist following his arrest. This prompted most of his key aides and family members to flee Russia to escape any possible arrest.
Navalny’s supporters and human rights defenders have accused Putin of doing everything to keep him silent. Amnesty International denounced the case as a “sham trial.”
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