An appeals court in Moscow on Saturday upheld the imprisonment of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny in a case widely believed to be aimed at sidelining Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.
The Moscow court upheld a ruling earlier in February that Navalny had violated the terms of a suspended sentence for fraud he received in 2014 by not returning to Russia immediately from Germany after recovering from nerve gas poisoning last summer.
Judge Dmitry Balashov dropped two months from Navalny’s sentence, meaning he will have to serve two years and six months in a penal colony, but this week ignored a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Russia should immediately release Navalny from prison .
Russia’s Justice Ministry said the ruling was “ inherently unenforceable, ” even though it had already paid Navalny compensation after the ECHR revoked the conviction in 2017.
Navalny argued that he was unable to attend conditional hearings while being treated for the poisoning and voluntarily flew back to Russia in January.
In a 15-minute speech, Navalny from the Sermon on the Mount quoted Harry Potter and the cartoon Rick and Morty as he accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the trial to silence him.
“What’s the most popular slogan in Russia, Your Honor? Strength in the truth,” said Navalny, quoting a cult 1990s blockbuster about a hit man.
“Even though our country is built on injustice right now, and we face it all the time – and we see its worst form, armed injustice – there are still tens of millions of people who want the truth. And sooner or later they will get it.
The important thing is that you are not part of the lie. You run the risk of making the world worse. As another philosopher, Rick Sanchez, said, life is risking everything, otherwise you are just an inert lump of randomly assembled molecules floating around wherever the universe blows you. “
Navalny was later on Saturday to be convicted in a separate case for alleged defamation of a 94-year-old WWII veteran. He said those accusations were used to fuel a propaganda attack on state television, where presenters accused him of Nazi sympathies and even compared him unfavorably to Hitler.
What do Putin and United Russia have to do with winning the war? Did they fight in the trenches? Navalny asked. “You use it because it is too difficult to discuss current issues. People want to talk about corruption and poverty and you have nothing to say. So you’re talking about veterans. “
Navalny’s return triggered Russia’s greatest political crisis in years. After he was arrested at the border and jailed in a police station during a summary hearing, Navalny’s supporters staged large protests in more than 125 cities in Russia.
Much of the protesters’ anger was fueled by a video investigation claiming that oligarchs spent billions on a lavish palace for Putin on the Black Sea, which has been viewed more than 110 million times on YouTube.
Riot police with tear gas and tasers have arrested more than 10,000 people at the rallies, while Navalny’s younger brother and several of his top employees are under house arrest for organizing them.
The Kremlin has expelled three European diplomats for observing the protests.