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Russia: Alexei Navalny faces 30 more years in prison

Kirill Buketov
June 18, 2023

On Monday, the Moscow City Court will start examining a new case against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. There are seven charges against him, including "extremism."

Alexei Navalny in Vladimir, Russia
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is currently in a penal colony in Russia's Vladimir region Image: Vladimir Kondrashov/AP/picture alliance

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is accused of "extremism" and a number of other crimes according to Russia's Criminal Code, which was amended in 2022.

The trial will take place at the penal colony in the Vladimir region east of Moscow where the opposition figure is already serving a nine-year sentence for fraud and contempt of court.

Navalny himself has said that he faces up to 30 years in prison on the new charges. His associates also fear a harsh verdict. "We assume that the trial will be over relatively quickly, and Alexei will really be sentenced to an unimaginable prison term of around 30 years," Navalny's spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said.

Navalny is on trial for the first time for political activities

Another ally, Leonid Volkov, also believes that a severe verdict is inevitable but highlighted that the new case was different because of its exclusively political character.

"For the first time, Navalny is being tried for his political activity under the article pertaining to politics," he said on DW's Russian-language podcast Novosti Show.

"Before, the Kremlin tried to say: 'Yes, he's just a swindler  he stole the whole forest, all the mail, all the donations, just a thief.' So, they tried to make these as demonstrative as possible. Navalny's new case is purely political, he is simply being tried for all his political activities, which the Kremlin has retroactively declared extremist since 2011," Volkov said.

Spokesperson Yarmysh told DW that Navalny's supporters consider "all the possible verdicts to be unlawful and this whole case to be entirely fabricated."

"So, of course we will do our best to let the whole world know about it, including carrying out protest actions," she said.

Closed hearing without journalists

According to Yarmysh, Russian authorities want to conduct the trial as quietly as possible due to "lack of evidence" and had tried to hide it from the public. The preliminary hearing was postponed from May 31 to June 6 and then the location of the trial was changed from the Moscow City Court to the penal colony in Vladimir.

On June 5, Volkov predicted that the trial would not be public: "The trial will be as closed as possible. We will only be told the verdict. The Kremlin will do everything to ensure that no information leaks out."

There are 196 files in the new case against Navalny. The anti-corruption activist is accused of violating seven articles of the criminal code at the same time. The charges include the organization of an extremist community (his Anti-Corruption Foundation was declared an "extremist organization" on June 9, 2021), public calls for extremism, the rehabilitation of Nazism and involving minors in life-threatening activities (calls for rallies).

ECHR supports Navalny

On the day of the preliminary hearing in Russia, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg announced its decision on the lawsuit, which Navalny's lawyers filed in August 2020 regarding the refusal of the Russian authorities to investigate his poisoning the same year. The court sided with the plaintiff and found that the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. It ordered Russia to pay Alexei Navalny €40,000 ($44,000) in damages. The sum of €300,000 that had been demanded was considered excessive.

It will likely be impossible to get this money from the Russian authorities. Russia, which is no longer in the Council of Europe and not a party to the Convention, does not recognize the court's decisions.

Yarmysh believes that the decision is important nonetheless. "It means that the court has recognized that Alexei [Navalny]'s life was indeed in danger and the Russian Federation is to blame. It is, therefore, clear that this is an important decision purely from the point of view of justice and it proves that our lawyers were right despite all the Russian courts' refusals to examine these cases."

Moreover, as a Council of Europe representative told DW, it means that the court can consider complaints filed by Russians if these pertain to violations of the rights of Russian citizens that took place before mid-September 2022.

That is when Russia ceased to be a party to the European Convention on Human Rights — six months after it announced its withdrawal from the Council of Europe.

This article was translated from Russian.