Navalny Jailed For Nine Years On Charges He Denies

By RFE/RL's Russian Service

A Russian court has found opposition politician Aleksei Navalny guilty of embezzlement and contempt charges and handed him a sentence of nine years as authorities continue to crack down on the Kremlin's most vocal critic and civil society as a whole.

Judge Margarita Kotova announced the verdict and the punishment on March 22 at the penal colony outside Moscow where Navalny is already being held in connection with a previous sentence. She added that he was also being fined 1.2 million rubles ($11,400).

The U.S. State Department said after the ruling that it “strongly condemns” the verdict against the longtime Kremlin critic.

"The court's sham ruling is the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny," spokesman Ned Price said.

He called it a "disturbing decision" and a further example of the Kremlin's "widening crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression, which is intended to hide the Kremlin's brutal war, and unprovoked war against Ukraine."

The European Union assailed the court decision, calling it "politically motivated."

The EU "deplores the systematic crackdown on civil society, independent media, individual journalists, and human rights defenders in Russia," foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

Navalny's lawyers, Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev, told reporters at the trial that the current sentence the anti-corruption crusader is serving will be incorporated into the new one, and that they would appeal the March 22 ruling.

Before they could finish speaking with the press, the two were detained by police and taken away from the penal colony where the trial took place. They were released a short time later, according to Kobzev.

"When Putin, 'Judge' Kotova, and others think that they can hold out for nine years, it will be exactly the same overestimation of their strength as the one that has led them to war and economic disaster," said Leonid Volkov, an associate who was among several Navalny allies to flee Russia last year before being placed on the government's list of extremists and terrorists.

Looking gaunt and dressed in his all-black prison outfit, Navalny stood with his lawyers in the makeshift courtroom filled with security officers as Kotova read out the accusations against Russian President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic.

The 45-year-old, who is a lawyer himself, seemed unfazed during the proceedings, often looking down while Kotova spoke as he perused court documents.

Navalny has spent the last year in the penal colony on a different charge after returning from abroad, where he was recovering from a near-fatal poison attack that he blames on the Kremlin.

The corruption crusader reiterated his innocence during his final statement at the trial, noting the prosecution's demands highlighted the corrupt nature of the trial.

"I want to say: the best support for me and other political prisoners is not sympathy and kind words, but actions. Any activity against the deceitful and thievish Putin's regime. Any opposition to these war criminals," Navalny said in a tweet after the proceedings.

Russian authorities have tried to cast Navalny and his supporters as Western-backed operatives trying to destabilize Russia. Many of Navalny's allies have fled Russia rather than face restrictions on their freedom or even prison time at home.

His Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) has been labelled an "extremist" organization and banned.

Navalny's press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, said after the verdict that the foundation would now be "taking our activities to the international level" by launching a global Anti-Corruption Foundation.

The new case against Navalny was launched in December 2020 on allegations that the 45-year-old anti-corruption campaigner embezzled money from his now defunct and banned Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and for contempt of a Moscow court.

Investigators accused Navalny of taking around $33,770 in donations for his own personal use. Navalny and his supporters reject all the charges, calling them politically motivated.

The contempt charge stems from a separate case he was involved in last year.

Within weeks of returning from his convalescence in Germany in January 2021, Navalny was jailed for violating the terms of an earlier parole. His conviction is widely regarded as the result of a trumped-up, politically motivated case.

It is not clear whether any new sentence he receives will run concurrently or be tacked on to the penalty he is now serving.

The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning, which along with his arrest sparked widespread condemnation and sanctions from the West.