Putin critic Navalny fined for defamation and has prison sentence appeal rejected

Oliver Carroll
Saturday 20 February 2021 17:04
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A court issued a double blow to Alexei Navalny on Saturday — first by rejecting an appeal against his jail sentence of nearly three years of prison colony, and then by adding a 850,000 ruble fine (GBP 8200) for supposedly defaming a war veteran.

But if was a case of tragedy repeated, the headstrong Kremlin critic showed no signs of acknowledging it — other than declaring the proceedings in front of him a farce.

"They try me and try me, and try me and try me, and try me and try me," he said. "It’s a bit weird."

Mr Navalny has been hit by multiple legal challenges ever since being arrested on his January return to Russia following a near death experience at the hands of Novichok.

On February 2, he was sentenced to nearly three years jail time for supposedly absconding from parole meetings. The case, widely condemned as trumped-up, hinged on a historical court verdict since overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

On Wednesday, the same Strasbourg court demanded that the Kremlin release Mr Navalny, determining his life was under threat while in jail. Russia has rejected the ruling, describing it as "politicised."

Shortly before noon on Saturday, Judge Dmitry Balashov upheld the original custodial verdict. He confirmed Mr Navalny would soon be transferred to a prison colony, albeit with a slightly reduced jail time to take into account time spent under house arrest.

In the parallel case being considered on Saturday, state prosecutors accused the opposition leader of "defaming" a World War II veteran. That claim relates to criticism of a promotional video recorded ahead of last summer’s vote on constitutional amendments to extend Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The maximum tariff of this second charge was a fine, and seems more directed at portraying the Kremlin critic as unpatriotic and mean.

In reality, Mr Navalny does not appear to have specifically directed criticism at 94-year-old Ignat Artemenko, but at the organisers and C-list celebrities who appear on the video. But such arguments were given a short shift as the judge sided with the prosecutors’ submission that the comments were intentionally defamatory of the veteran.

Pacing around the glass-enclosed dock, Mr Navalny railed against his accusers. Far from defending the veteran’s interests, they were, he said, "stealing" from him.

"One day in court costs more that the state has given him in four years," the politician said, before referring to an opulent Black Sea palace allegedly built for Vladimir Putin. "If you want to build a palace in Gelendzhik, you need to steal from someone, and who better to steal from than a pensioner?"

Earlier, Mr Navalny rejected "absurd" charges that he had actively avoided parole hearings. He had behaved like an "ideal citizen," he contended — despite being the subject of an "attempted assassination attempt." He had informed the prison inspectorate of his whereabouts "at every possible moment," he claimed.

"I don’t want to brag but the whole world knew where I was," he said.

At one point, Mr Navalny raised his arms, and said he had run out of rational arguments to make. "So let’s talk about God," he suggested.

In an unusually personal submission, the opposition leader then told the court how his faith had given him "strength" even when placed in unprecedented isolation:

"There is a book where everything is written very clearly about what to do in every situation. It says ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ In a difficult movement I’ve followed this manual and stayed true to it."

That commandment — strength in truth — would in time motivate "tens of millions," he suggested.

Mr Navalny revealed he also funnelled strength from a more unusual source: the Harry Potter fiction series.

"There was an excellent philosopher called Luna Lovegood who told Harry it was important not to feel alone, because that was exactly what Lord Voldemort would want," he said.

"Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel I’m all on my own. But I don’t feel alone."

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