Moscow: A Russian court on Tuesday found jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny guilty of additional charges and extended his sentence to nine years in a higher security prison as Moscow seeks to wipe out remaining pockets of dissent. The sentencing came on the 27th day of what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in pro-Western Ukraine, with thousands killed and some 10 million displaced.
Following the verdict, President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal domestic critic who has been behind bars for more than a year said the Russian leader was afraid of the truth. “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,” the 45-year-old opposition politician said in a post on Instagram after the sentencing.
With his trademark sense of humour, Navalny took the extension of his jail time on new charges of embezzlement and contempt of court in stride, joking that his “space flight is being extended — my ship has gotten caught in a time loop.” He also urged Russians to resist “these war criminals”. He stood trial inside his penal colony in the town of Pokrov outside Moscow.
“Navalny committed fraud — the theft of property by an organised group,” judge Margarita Kotova said, according to an AFP reporter present at the hearing. The judge also found Navalny guilty of the less severe charge of contempt of court. Navalny will serve his new sentence in a strict-regime penal colony, which will place him in much harsher conditions.
His lawyers, Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev, were detained by police following the verdict but were later freed. Navalny’s defence team said the new sentence replaces the one he is currently serving, meaning that he will not be freed for another eight years, instead of a year and a half.
– ‘People are afraid’ –
Last year the opposition leader was sentenced to two and a half years for violating parole for old fraud charges while recovering from a poison attack with Novichok nerve agent that he blames on the Kremlin. Navalny will also have to pay a fine of 1.2 million rubles ($11,500) and upon his release he will have to abide by various restrictions on his movement and activities for a further 1.5 years.
He appeared for Tuesday’s hearing in the makeshift court wearing his black prison uniform, with journalists watching via a video link. He listened closely as judge Kotova read out the verdict, sometimes smiling. Navalny has denied the charges against him, saying they were punishment for challenging 69-year-old Putin.