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Navalny back in court in slander case

February 12, 2021

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny could face more jail time over a defamation case for describing a World War II veteran as a traitor. The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

Alexei Navalny, who is accused of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran, stands inside a defendant dock
Navalny's arrest and jailing has sparked nationwide street protests in RussiaImage: Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/REUTERS

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in court in Moscow on Friday on charges of insulting a World War II veteran.

The defamation case against Navalny opened last week, after he was already sentenced to three-and-a-half-years in a separate case. 

The prominent Kremlin critic could face fines, compulsory labor or prison if convicted in the latest case against him.

What is Navalny accused of?

He is alleged to have slandered participants in a video promoting reforms to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay in office for longer.

Navalny tweeted a clip of the video, describing the people who appeared in it as "traitors."

The people who appeared in the video spoke in favor of changing Russia's constitution — a change critics say tightened Putin's stranglehold on power.

They included a 95-year-old World War II veteran who said Navalny's comments led his health to deteriorate.

The trial opened last week but was interrupted by the plaintiff's health issues. Navalny suggested the veteran, who participated in the hearing remotely, was mentally unable to follow the proceedings.

'Stop shaming yourself'

Wearing a blue hoodie, Navalny appeared in a glass cage for defendants at the Moscow court. Riot police surrounded the court and set up cordons.

Navalny's lawyer Olga Mikhailova urged the judge to allow the media into the courtroom and accused her of bias. Mikhailova asked that the judge be removed from overseeing the hearing.

Navalny, meanwhile, told the judge that she was selected for the trial because she was "the most unscrupulous judge in the world." 

"Stop shaming yourself and enroll in some courses to improve your knowledge of the laws of the Russian Federation," he added.

Police seize coffee mug in raid

Ahead of the appearance, police conducted a late-night search of Navalny's headquarters, ending at about 1 a.m. local time.

The scope and nature of evidence seized was not immediately clear. However, photos posted by Navalny's staff showed them bagging a coffee mug.

Police gave no statement about the reason for the search.

In one report, a Navalny staff member said police claimed they had been told pornography was being published at the office.

Background to the latest trial

Navalny's lawyer has called the defamation trial another attempt to silence his vocal criticism of Putin and his increasingly authoritarian regime.

Navalny was arrested on January 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport where he had arrived on a flight from Germany.

He had spent five months away from Russia while recovering from poisoning with the nerve-agent Novichok that he blames on the Kremlin.

It was alleged that the time he spent in Germany violated a suspended sentence he was given for a money-laundering and fraud conviction. When Navalny left Russia for Germany, he had been rendered unconscious by the poisoning.

The 44-year-old was ordered to serve three-and-a-half years in prison for the supposed violation.

Navalny's arrest and detention sparked protests throughout the country on two weekends in January, in which about 10,000 people were reported to have been arrested.

rc/rs (dpa, AFP)

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