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Alexei Navalny found guilty in slander case

February 20, 2021

A Moscow court has ruled that the Kremlin critic defamed a Russian World War II veteran and ordered a fine of nearly €9,500. Earlier, the same court upheld Navalny's prison sentence for a parole violation.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Navalny appeared in court in Moscow for a second time on SaturdayImage: Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was convicted for slander by a Moscow court Saturday, just hours after the same court upheld a prison sentence on separate parole violation charges.

His supporters say both charges are part of a politically motivated plot from the Kremlin to silence opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The court ordered Navalny to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles (€9,474; $11,481) in the defamation case. Prosecutors had originally asked for a slightly larger fine of 950,000 rubles.

DW Moscow correspondent Emily Sherwin has been following developments in the trials of Alexei Navalny

DW Moscow correspondent Emily Sherwin said Navalny had approached the day's court hearings with a mixture of humor and cynicism.

"He was joking all day. He was smiling and even joked with journalists watching the case and waiting for the verdict," Sherwin said, adding that Navalny said he had pickled cucumbers in a plastic bag while in prison.

During the hearings, Navalny said he did not regret returning to Russia, according to Sherwin, and made speeches referencing both Harry Potter and the Bible.

Navalny said he hoped Russia could be a country where "truth and justice matter, and Russia can be free."

What was Navalny accused of? 

Navalny was accused of defaming a World War II veteran who appeared in a video last year advocating removing presidential term limits, which would allow Putin to stay in power beyond 2024.

On Twitter, Navalny described people in the video as "traitors" and "corrupt stooges."

Russian investigators said Navalny's tweet "denigrated the honor and dignity" of 95-year-old war veteran Ignat Artemenko, who was among the athletes and celebrities that appeared in the video. 

The trial opened last week but was interrupted by the plaintiff's health issues. As evidence was read, Artemenko suddenly felt sick.

The prosecution had asked the court transcript to show Navalny was to blame for the elderly veteran's malaise. 

Navalny had suggested the veteran, who participated in the hearing remotely, was mentally unable to follow the proceedings.

He has dismissed the case as a "PR process" and has said that the Kremlin "needs headlines" suggesting that "Navalny slandered a veteran." 

Another legal blow for Navalny

The verdict was another legal blow for Navalny after an appeals court earlier in the day upheld a prison sentence for the opposition leader due to a parole violation.

Navalny had filed an appeal against a three-year prison sentence, but the Moscow City Court's decision to uphold the ruling likely means he will spend 2 1/2 years in a penal colony, after 1 1/2 months was shaved off due to time already served in house arrest.

A spokesman for Navalny called the appeals court decision to uphold the prison sentence a sign that "there is no justice in Russia."

Navalny was detained last month at a Moscow airport after he returned to Russia from Germany.

Navalny had been recovering at a Berlin hospital from a poisoning incident last August, which he said was carried out by Russian intelligence with a Novichok nerve agent.

The Kremlin has denied the allegation.

The prison sentence for Navalny earlier this month had ignited protests across Russia. Demonstrators had participated in Valentine's Day vigil on Feb. 14 in solidarity with the Kremlin critic. 

wmr, wd/mm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)