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Navalny back in court for slander trial

February 5, 2021

Just days after being sentenced to jail, the prominent Putin critic now faces a separate trial over defamation charges. Navalny slammed the hearing as a "PR trial" by the Kremlin.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in court for a defamation hearing
Navalny was sentenced to over two years in prison earlier this week in a separate caseImage: Moskauer Babuschkinskij Bezirksgericht

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared before a court in Moscow on Friday, this time facing a slander trial.

The 44-year-old prominent Kremlin critic was seen standing inside a glass case for defendants in the courtroom, an AFP journalist reported.

The latest court case against Navalny comes the same day as the European Union's top diplomat is holding talks with Russian officials in Moscow.

Why is Navalny back in court?

Navalny faces charges of slandering a World War II veteran and several other people who took part in a pro-Kremlin video last year.

The video promoted constitutional amendments that passed last year, which allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to potentially remain in office until 2036.

Navalny described the people in the video as "traitors" without a conscience and "the shame of the country."

Navalny supporters in prison

The slander charge is currently punishable by up to two years in prison. He could also face a fine or community service.

Navalny's lawyer, however, argues that he cannot be served a custodial sentence because the alleged crime took place before the law changed to make defamation a jailable offense.

The opposition leader also faces a separate probe for allegedly using millions in donations for personal purposes, including vacations aboard. The charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

What happened in the courtroom?

Navalny slammed the latest hearing against him in remarks to the court on Friday.

"This trial was conceived as some kind of PR trial, because the Kremlin needs headlines, 'Navalny slandered a veteran','' the opposition politician told the court. 

"I find it really disgusting and unbearable... You've been using him [the veteran] as a puppet... you're making a mockery of a 95-year-old man," he added.

How has the EU responded?

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Friday.

Ahead of the talks, Borrell said he would send a "clear message" over Navalny's arrest and human rights issues. It is the first visit by a senior EU envoy since 2017.

The EU, United States and leaders from other Western countries have urged Russia to release Navalny.

They've also heavily criticized the crackdown on pro-Navalny protesters at nationwide rallies over the past two weeks.

Russia has dismissed the criticism as "hysteria."

What happened this week?

On Tuesday, Navalny was sentenced to 3 years and six months for violating probation terms relating to a 2014 embezzlement case.

He will serve two years and eight months due to time already spent under house arrest. The outspoken Kremlin critic called the trial an attempt to "intimidate" the public.

Navalny was arrested last month upon returning to Moscow from Germany, where he'd been recovering after being poisoned with a nerve agent in August 2020.

His return an subsequent detention inspired thousands of protesters across Russia to take to the streets, prompting mass arrests by authorities.

rs/rt (AFP, Reuters)