Moscow court rejects Kremlin critic Navalny's appeal against prison sentence

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures during a hearing on his charges for defamation in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow on February 16, 2021.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures during a hearing on his charges for defamation in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow on February 16, 2021. © Babuskinsky District Court Press Service handout, AP

A Moscow appeal court on Saturday upheld a prison sentence imposed on Alexei Navalny after he returned to Russia from Germany following a poisoning attack, shortening his nearly three-year jail term by just six weeks.


Judge Dmitry Balashov rejected Navalny's appeal of the February 2 ruling, which had turned a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges into real jail time. 

The judge decided to count the six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, meaning he will now be imprisoned for just over two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

A Moscow court on Saturday also convicted Navalny for defamation. Judge Vera Akimova said Navalny was guilty of defaming a World War II veteran who was among a group of Russians Navalny called "traitors" for appearing in a pro-Kremlin video.

Supporters of the outspoken opposition figure say the rulings and several other cases against the 44-year-old are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.

Navalny was given the nearly three-year sentence on February 2 for breaching parole terms of an embezzlement conviction while in Germany recovering from a poisoning attack that very nearly killed him.

That ruling stemmed from a suspended sentence he was given in 2014 for embezzlement, a ruling the European Court of Human Rights deemed arbitrary.

European court order rebuffed

The 94-year-old veteran at the centre of the separate defamation case appeared in a video that was derided by Navalny for promoting constitutional reforms that passed last year and could allow President Putin to stay in power until 2036.

A series of theatrical hearings in the case ended Tuesday with Navalny asking if the judge could recommend a recipe for pickles, since it is "pointless to talk about the law" with her.

Putin came under pressure to release Navalny when he was detained on arrival at a Moscow airport in January.

The arrest sparked large protests across the county that saw more than 10,000 people detained, while the European Union threatened to impose new sanctions on Russia.

Europe's rights court ruled this week that Russia must immediately release Navalny, in a motion swiftly brushed off by the Kremlin.

Navalny's allies believe Russia's non-compliance with the ruling could lead to its expulsion from the Council of Europe and exacerbate a crisis in Moscow's ties with Europe that began with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

'Putin's chef'

EU member Lithuania's foreign ministry said Friday that a group of EU foreign ministers will meet with two top Navalny aides in Brussels on Sunday.

Navalny aides in talks with EU representatives this month urged the bloc to hit people close to Putin with sanctions.

Another Moscow court this week rejected Navalny's appeal against a fine of 3.3 million rubles (€36,825, $44,649) that he was ordered to pay a catering company in another defamation lawsuit.

Those charges were levied at the opposition figure by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed "Putin's chef" because his company Concord catered for the Kremlin.

The 59-year-old businessman, who is under US and European sanctions, has two pending cases against Navalny that will be considered in March.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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