A Russian court convicted imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on charges of extremism and sentenced him to 19 years in prison on Friday. Navalny is already serving a nine-year term on a variety of charges that he says were politically motivated.
The new charges are related to the activities of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and statements by his top associates. It was his fifth criminal conviction and the third and longest prison term handed to him, all of which his supporters see as a deliberate Kremlin strategy to silence its most ardent opponent.
Russian state news agencies reported that he would serve this new term concurrently with his current sentence on charges of fraud and contempt of court. Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh told The Associated Press it's the most likely scenario but that his team has not seen the text of the verdict yet.
The prosecution had demanded a 20-year prison sentence, and Navalny said beforehand that he expected to receive a lengthy term.
He was also sentenced in 2021 to two and a half years in prison for a parole violation. The extremism trial took place behind closed doors in the penal colony east of Moscow where Navalny is imprisoned.
Navalny appeared in the courtroom wearing prison garb and looking gaunt, but with a defiant smile on his face. As the judge read out the verdict, the politician stood alongside his lawyers and his co-defendant with his arms crossed, listening with a serious expression on his face.
It took the judge less than 10 minutes to announce the verdict and the sentence — something that in Russia usually takes hours and even days. The hearing was broadcast to reporters in a separate room, but the judge's speech was barely audible.
Yarmysh confirmed the verdict to the AP, adding that Navalny was also ordered to pay a fine of about $5,200. The politician himself commented on the sentence in a social media post, presumably relayed through his team.
In a short statement posted several hours after the hearing, Navalny said that “the number doesn't matter.”
“I understand perfectly that, as many political prisoners, I'm serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime,” he said and urged his supporters “not to lose the will to resist" in the wake of his sentence.
The 47-year-old Navalny is President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe and has exposed official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests. He was arrested in January 2021 upon returning to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.
Navalny’s allies said the extremism charges retroactively criminalized all of the anti-corruption foundation’s activities since its creation in 2011. In 2021, Russian authorities outlawed the foundation and the vast network of Navalny’s offices in Russian regions as extremist organizations, exposing anyone involved to possible prosecution.
Navalny rejected all the charges against him as politically motivated and accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life.
On the eve of the verdict hearing, Navalny released a statement on social media, presumably through his team, in which he said he expected his latest sentence to be “huge … a Stalinist term.” Under the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, millions of people were branded “enemies of the state,” jailed and sometimes executed in what became known as the “Great Terror.”
In his statement, Navalny called on Russians to “personally” resist and encouraged them to support political prisoners, distribute flyers or go to a rally. He told Russians that they could choose a safe way to resist, but he added that “there is shame in doing nothing. It’s shameful to let yourself be intimidated.”
The politician is currently serving his sentence in a maximum-security prison — Penal Colony No. 6 in the town of Melekhovo, more than 140 miles east of Moscow.
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