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Navalny: Russia opposition leader gets 19 more years in jail

Published August 4, 2023last updated August 4, 2023

Alexei Navalny's supporters say the charges against him, over his now-closed political movement, are trumped up. He is already serving a nearly 12-year sentence.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny behind bars
Navalny was poisoned in August 2020 with what Western doctors say was a Novichock nerve agentImage: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS

The Kremlin's most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to 19 years in jail on Friday after being convicted of extremism in a closed-door trial that his supporters called a sham to keep him locked up and out of Russian politics.

The 47-year-old is already serving a nearly 12-year sentence for fraud, contempt of court and other charges.

On Friday, Navalny was found guilty of founding and financing an extremist organization and trivializing Nazism.

The charges relate to his role in his now-defunct political movement inside Russia, which the authorities said had been trying to foment a revolution by seeking to destabilize social and political organizations.

Navalny sentence meant 'to scare as many people as possible'

Russian prosecutors had requested a 20-year sentence.

One of Navalny's associates, Daniel Kholodny, stood trial alongside him after being relocated from a different prison. 

Kholodny was found guilty of "participating in an extremist community" and "financing extremist activities" and sentenced to eight years. 

The trial was not held in a courtroom but in the Melekhovo penal colony, some 260 kilometers (161 miles) from Moscow.

Navalny urges Russians to keep resisting Kremlin

"The number of years does not matter," Navalny said in a statement released on social media after the sentencing.

"I perfectly understand that, like many political prisoners, I am serving a life sentence. Where life is measured by the length of my life or the longevity of this regime," he added. 

Navalny also urged Russians "to keep resisting the Kremlin."

"They want to frighten you, not me, and deprive you of the will to resist," he wrote. 

"You are being forced to surrender your Russia without a fight to a gang of traitors, thieves, and scoundrels who have seized power... Don't lose the will to resist."

Court ruling roundly condemned


The Kremlin denied the charges were trumped up, insisting Navalny's case is purely a legal matter for the courts.

The European Union however condemned what it called another politically motivated ruling and called for Navalny's immediate release.

The United Nations rights chief called for Navalny's immediate release.

"The new sentence imposed today on opposition figure Alexei Navalny raises renewed serious concerns about judicial harassment and instrumentalization of the court system for political purposes in Russia," Volker Turk said in a statement.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock labeled the new sentence for Navalny "sheer injustice."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on social media that "The Kremlin cannot silence the truth. Navalny should be released."

"By conducting this latest trial in secret and limiting his lawyers' access to purported evidence, Russian authorities illustrated yet again both the baselessness of their case and the lack of due process afforded to those who dare to criticize the regime," the US State Department said in a statement.

Irina Shcherbakova, the co-founder of Memorial, Russia's oldest human rights group, told DW the sentence had nothing to do with justice. 

"This regime and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin personally are scared of Navalny even though he is in jail," she said. 

Shcherbakova also said the conditions of Navalny's imprisonment were getting worse. 

Poisoning shocked the world

Navalny is a prominent opposition figure in Russia who leveraged social media and public irritation with the Kremlin to rise to stardom before being targeted by authorities.

At one stage, he campaigned across the country to be president, published corruption investigations that embarrassed Putin and other senior government officials and rallied massive crowds onto Russia's streets.

In August 2020, Navalny was the victim of a near-fatal poisoning attack in Siberia with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, which the West has blamed on Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB.

A former lawyer, Navalny returned to Russia from Germany following treatment in early 2021.

The decision put him on a collision course with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he was immediately arrested upon arrival in Moscow.

Navalny's anti-corruption group was shuttered and labeled "extremist," and his top allies have either been imprisoned or are in exile.

His arrest spurred some of the largest demonstrations Russia had seen in decades. 

Navalny has denounced Russia's war in Ukraine

Navalny now only appears in grainy videos from court hearings at his maximum-security prison but continues to slam the Kremlin for what he sees as its latest folly: Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has stepped up its clampdown on dissent since launching large-scale hostilities in Ukraine in 2022.

Navalny's team says he has been harassed in prison and repeatedly moved to a punitive solitary confinement cell.

He says guards have subjected him and other inmates to "torture by Putin," making them listen to the president's speeches.

Alexei Navalny, Putin's relentless Russian critic — archive

lo, mm/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)