Imprisoned Russian opponent Alexei Navalny was sentenced on Tuesday March 22 to an additional nine years in prison after being found guilty of fraud and contempt of court.
“Navalny committed a fraud, the theft of property from others by an organized group”, said judge Margarita Kotova, at the start of the reading of the judgment, which took several hours. The prosecution had requested thirteen years in prison.
The 45-year-old Russian opponent had been on trial since mid-February within the very walls of his penal colony 100 kilometers east of Moscow, prosecutions which he describes as political. He has already been serving a two and a half year sentence for fraud for a little over a year, a case also fabricated according to him.
Transfer to a “severe regime” prison
At the end of the judgment, Alexeï Navalny could be transferred, at the request of the prosecution, to a prison in “hard diet”where the conditions of detention are much harsher and which is much further from Moscow.
Around 100 journalists attended a video broadcast of the hearing in a press room set up in the penal colony. No supporter of the opponent was present – except for his two lawyers – in the midst of a wave of intimidation and repression against the critical voices of the Kremlin.
In the case tried on Tuesday, investigators accuse Mr Navalny of embezzling millions of rubles in donations to his anti-corruption organizations and“ contempt of court” during one of his previous hearings.
An activist renowned for his scathing investigations into corruption and the lifestyle of Russian elites, Alexei Navalny survived a serious poisoning in 2020 for which he holds President Vladimir Putin responsible. In August 2020, he fell seriously ill in Siberia, victim of poisoning with a nerve agent. The Kremlin denies any involvement, but Russian authorities have never investigated the alleged assassination attempt.
Navalny’s call to demonstrate against the war in Ukraine
Upon his return to Russia in January 2021, after five months of convalescence, he was arrested and then sentenced to two and a half years in prison for a “fraud” case dating back to 2014 and involving the French company Yves Rocher. In June 2021, his organizations, which had been campaigning for years throughout Russia, were designated “extremists” and banned immediately, pushing many activists into exile to avoid prosecution. Others have since been arrested and face heavy prison sentences.
This relentless crackdown, which has been accompanied by the banning of the last media outlets and NGOs critical of the Kremlin, has prompted an outcry in Western countries and sanctions against Moscow.
Even from his penal colony, Alexei Navalny continues to send messages castigating the power of Vladimir Putin. Since the offensive in Ukraine, he has spoken out strongly against the fighting. He has continued to call for demonstrations against the conflict despite the risks involved, the authorities having further strengthened their legal arsenal, with heavy prison sentences at stake, to stifle any criticism of the Russian army.
Despite everything, more than 15,000 people have been arrested in Russia in almost a month for having demonstrated against the offensive, according to the specialized NGO OVD-Info. At the same time, the Russian government has also tightened its grip on the dissemination of information relating to the conflict, by blocking access in Russia to dozens of local and foreign media. On Monday, the Russian justice also banned the popular American social networks Instagram and Facebook, accused, like Mr. Navalny, “extremism”. These are already blocked in Russia, as are Twitter and TikTok.