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Putin critic Navalny sentenced to 9 years in prison

March 22, 2022

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was convicted of fraud and contempt of court and will be sent to a maximum security penal colony. His supporters decry the charges as politically motivated.

Russland Petushki | Gefängnis | Alexei Nawalny
The trial was held at the labor colony where Navalny is already imprisonedImage: Denis Kaminev/AP Photo/picture alliance

Longtime Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been found guilty of fraud and embezzlement charges, as well as contempt of court, according to a verdict handed down on Tuesday.

The court sentenced Navalny to nine years in a maximum security prison. A judge also ordered Navalny to pay a fine of 1.2 million rubles (about $11,500 or €10,400).

Navalny and his supporters have decried the charges as politically motivated. He is already serving a two-and-a-half year sentence at a prison camp east of Moscow for parole violations related to charges he says were trumped up to thwart his attempts to run for office.

Both Navalny and rights groups have said he has been tortured in prison.

Navalny 'will stand up to this challenge,' says ally Sergei Guriev

Navalny says 'Putin is afraid of the truth'

In an Instagram statement posted after his sentencing, Navalny said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was scared that Russian people would discover the truth about his regime.

 "Putin is afraid of the truth, I have always said this. Fighting censorship, relaying the truth to the people of Russia always remained our priority," Navalny said.

Two of Navalny's lawyers were detained by the police after the sentence was announced but released shortly afterward, one of them, Vadim Kobzev, said on Twitter.

Navalny's wife, Yulia, also posted a message on Instagram, saying, "The figure 9 means absolutely nothing. I love you, my dearest person in the world, and I've never stopped being proud of you all these many, many years."

How have foreign governments reacted?

US State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned the "sham ruling" as "the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices."

"This outlandish prison term is a continuation of the Kremlin's years-long assault on Navalny and on his movement for government transparency and accountability," Price said.

The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned the sentence in a statement. 

"The new prison sentence imposed on Alexei Navalny today is an open act of  arbitrariness," the ministry said, adding, "He joins the systematic exploitation of the Russian judicial system against dissidents and the political opposition."

The German government called for his immediate release.

Alexei Navalny sentenced to 9 more years

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Frustrated with the corruption in the Russian government, Navalny co-founded the Russia of the Future party nearly a decade ago to oppose President Vladimir Putin's United Russia. He amassed a major following on social media, and has been arrested multiple times during anti-government protests.

In August 2020, Navalny was the target of suspected assassination attempt when he was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent. He spent a month recovering in a Berlin hospital before returning to Russia in January 2021. He was then promptly arrested for allegedly breaking the terms of his suspended sentence over an earlier case

Navalny verdict part of an ongoing crackdown: DW's Emily Sherwin 

Since his arrest, many of his closest allies have left Russia after facing multiple criminal charges. His Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of nearly 40 regional offices were outlawed as "extremist" and Navalny has been added to an official list of terrorists.

Sergei Guriev, professor of economics at the Center for Economic Policy Research, who is also one of the first sponsors of Alexei Navalny's anti-corruption fund and his longtime friend, told DW the verdict came as no surprise.

"When Alexei Navalny returned to Russia, it was very clear that the chances that he would be immediately imprisoned and kept in prison as long as Mr. Putin sits in the Kremlin were very high," he said.

Guriev added that the timing of the verdict during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, "when the world is looking the other way," was also no surprise. 

es/wmr, jsi (Reuters, AFP)