Moscow appeals court upholds jailing of Putin critic Navalny

An appeals court in Moscow upheld the jailing of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny on Saturday in a case widely seen as aimed at sidelining Russian president Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.

Moscow city court upheld a ruling from earlier in February that Navalny violated the terms of a suspended sentence for fraud he received in 2014 by not immediately returning to Russia from Germany after recovering from nerve agent poisoning last summer.

Judge Dmitry Balashov struck two months off Navalny’s sentence, which means he is set to serve two years and six months in a penal colony, but ignored a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights this week that Russia should free Navalny from prison immediately.

Russia’s justice ministry said the ruling was “inherently unenforceable” even though it had already paid Navalny compensation after the ECHR struck down the conviction in 2017.

Navalny argued he was unable to attend parole hearings while he was receiving treatment from the poisoning and flew back to Russia voluntarily in January.

In a 15-minute speech, Navalny quoted from the Sermon on the Mount, Harry Potter, and the cartoon Rick and Morty as he accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the trial to silence him.

“What’s the most popular slogan in Russia, your honour? Strength in truth,” said Navalny, quoting a cult 1990s blockbuster about a hitman.

“Even though our country is built on injustice right now, and we have to deal with it all the time — and we see its worst form, armed injustice — there are still tens of millions of people who want the truth. And sooner or later they’re going to get it.

“The important thing is not to be part of the lie. You risk making the world worse. As another philosopher, Rick Sanchez, said: To live is to risk it all, otherwise you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.”

Navalny was set to be sentenced later on Saturday in a separate case for allegedly defaming a 94-year-old second world war veteran. He said those charges were used to fuel a propaganda attack on state TV, where presenters have accused him of Nazi sympathies and even compared him unfavourably to Hitler.

“What do Putin and United Russia have to do with winning the war? Were they fighting in the trenches?” Navalny asked. “You’re using it because discussing current problems is too awkward. People want to talk about corruption and poverty and you have nothing to say. So you talk about veterans.”

Navalny’s return prompted the biggest political crisis in Russia in years. After he was arrested at the border and jailed in a summary hearing in a police station, Navalny’s supporters organised large protests in more than 125 cities across Russia.

Much of the protesters’ anger was fuelled by a video investigation alleging oligarchs spent billions on a lavish palace for Putin on the Black Sea that has racked up more than 110m views on YouTube.

Baton-wielding riot police with tear gas and tasers arrested more than 10,000 people at the rallies, while Navalny’s younger brother and several of his top aides are under house arrest for organising them.

The Kremlin expelled three European diplomats for observing the protests.

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