This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A Moscow court has upheld opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s prison sentence relating to an embezzlement conviction, but reduced the sentence by about 50 days considering time served.
The prison sentence was upheld on February 20, the same day another court found the prominent anti-corruption activist and Kremlin critic guilty of defaming a World War II veteran. The court fined him 850,000 rubles ($11,500) on the defamation verdict.
Navalny was in court to appeal the sentence handed down earlier this month in relation to a 2014 embezzlement case he has said is politically motivated. The prominent anti-corruption activist and Kremlin critic also faced a second court hearing later in the day relating to charges of defaming a World War II veteran.
During Navalny’s appeal hearing, the prosecution called on the court to uphold the February 2 sentence by a lower court, arguing that the decision to convert a suspended sentence related to the 2014 conviction into real jail time was lawful.
That 3 1/2-year sentence, considering time already spent in detention, had been set earlier this month at two years and eight months.
“Taking into account today’s decision by the Moscow City Court, Navalny will have to spend two years and six months in captivity with a little extra,” Navalny lawyer Vadim Kobzev was quoted as saying following the February 20 ruling.
Speaking from a glass cage in the Babushkinsky district court, where the Moscow City Court session was physically held, Navalny told the judge ruling on his case that it would be good if the court would now let him go. He also acknowledged that he was aware of a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) asking Russia to free him.
Members of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has conducted high-profile investigations of official corruption in Russia, harshly criticized the court’s decision to reject Navalny’s appeal.
“The court decision to keep Aleksei in jail says only one thing. There is no law in Russia right now,” members of the foundation’s staff wrote on Twitter.
Navalny’s 3 1/2-year sentence came after the prominent anti-corruption activist was accused of violating his parole when he did not report to authorities in Russia while he was recovering in Germany from a near-deadly poisoning he suffered in Siberia in August. Navalny has blamed his poisoning on the Kremlin, which it has denied.
Navalny, 44, the most prominent critic and political rival of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested immediately upon his return from Germany.
He told the court that he was unable to report to the Moscow prison service as required under his suspended sentence because he was still recuperating.
“I don’t want to show off a lot, but the whole world knew where I was,” Navalny told the judge. “Once I’d recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home.”
His detention triggered international condemnation and protests across Russia on January 23 and January 31 during which more than 10,000 people were rounded up by police.
Navalny said he had no regrets about returning to Russia, saying that “strength was in truth.”
“Our country is built on injustice,” he said. “But tens of millions of people want the truth. And sooner or later, they’ll get it.”
In his closing statements, Navalny said that “Russia shouldn’t just be free, Russia should be happy as well.”
Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov, speaking after the decision confirming that Navalny will go to prison, suggested that political life will continue without the powerful opposition figure in the mix.
“The Kremlin has many opponents. This is a normal political process,” he said. “Political life in Russia has developed, and it will continue to develop.”
The Strasbourg-based ECHR on February 16 called for the “immediate” release of Navalny, a demand rejected by the Kremlin as “unlawful” and “inadmissible” meddling in Russia’s affairs.
Moscow has remained defiant about Western criticism over its jailing of the opposition politician and the crackdown on his supporters, calling it foreign interference in its internal affairs. The Kremlin has also denied any role in Navalny’s poisoning, which foreign experts have determined was carried out with a Novichok class nerve-agent.
In a separate case, Navalny was also found guilty on February 20 of slandering a 94-year-old veteran for his role in a Kremlin-organized promotional video supporting constitutional changes that could allow Putin to remain in office until 2036. Case prosecutors had demanded that Navalny be fined 950,000 rubles ($13,000).
Navalny mocked the people in the clip, calling them “corrupt lackeys and traitors.” Navalny’s allies have called the trial a politically motivated sham and Navalny has accused Russian officials of “fabricating” the case against him.
Addressing the court for his closing statements in that case, Navalny accused the authorities of using the veteran “like a doll.”
“Through this process, the purpose of which is clear, you humiliated and insulted all these veterans 10 times [more] than everything you did before,” Navalny was quoted as saying by Mediazona. “For this, all of you will burn in hell.”