Alexei Navalny: ‘the man Putin couldn’t kill’ faces nine more years in jail

Russian court finds Putin critic guilty of fraud

Alexei Navalny
(Image credit: Dimitar Dilkoff/Getty)

Vladimir Putin’s fiercest domestic critic Alexei Navalny has been found guilty of fraud and faces a further nine years in jail.

A court in Pokrov, east of Moscow, where Navalny is being held, convicted him over allegations that he stole from his own Anti-Corruption Foundation, as well as on a charge of contempt of court. The BBC said a “visibly gaunt” Navalny “folded his arms and exchanged comments with his lawyer” as the ruling was read out.

Navalny was sentenced last year to three and a half years in a penal colony for breaking bail conditions. Now a judge has sentenced him to nine years behind bars.

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Who is Navalny?

Alexei Navalny has “long been the most prominent face of Russian opposition to President Vladimir Putin,” said the BBC.

Born on 4 June 1976 in Butyn, a village just west of Moscow, Navalny grew up in Obninsk and graduated with a law degree from Moscow’s Friendship of the Peoples University in 1998.

He rose to prominence in 2008 when he began writing blogs about alleged corruption at some of Russia’s largest state-controlled corporations, said Al Jazeera.

Ahead of the 2011 parliamentary election, Navalny advised his followers to vote for any party except Putin’s United Russia, which he called the “party of crooks and thieves”.

He then rallied anti-Putin protests and in 2015 served a 15-day prison sentence for distributing leaflets for an opposition rally on the subway.

In 2011 Navalny had founded an anti-corruption foundation called FBK. It sought to embarrass Putin’s United Russia party and last summer published a viral video claiming that the president’s rich associates gave him a luxurious Black Sea palace.

He has never been far from controversy and was dubbed “the man Putin couldn’t kill” by a BBC documentary. But some liberals have been “alarmed by Navalny’s early flirtation with the far right”, said Time magazine. They cited videos he put out in 2007 calling for the deportation of migrants, and comparing Islamist militants to cockroaches.

Where is he now?

Navalny was detained when he returned to Russia in January 2021 after months of treatment in Germany for a near-fatal Novichok nerve agent attack on him, which he blames on the Kremlin.

According to reports, an undercover hit squad working for Russia’s FSB spy agency poisoned Navalny on an internal flight in Siberia, having followed him for years.

The following month he was jailed for three and a half years for violating the conditions of a suspended sentence in an embezzlement case. Navalny insists the charges were politically motivated.

He is currently thought to be held at a prison colony 60 miles east of Moscow. IK-2 is a corrective labour colony near the town of Pokrov. It is known for its strict rules and harsh punishments.

Last year he reported, through his lawyers, that he was denied medical help for various health issues. He started a hunger strike that lasted 24 days, ending on 23 April 2021.

When he spoke in court last week he was wearing his black prison uniform. Journalists watching via video link said the transmission constantly cut out during his final speech.

What next for Navalny?

The prosecutor, Nadezhda Tikhonova, had last week called for a longer sentence for Navalny. “I request that Navalny be sentenced to a term of 13 years and a subsequent two years of probation,” said Tikhonova, according to Russian news agencies.

The prosecutor also asked for Navalny to be sent to a “strict regime” penal colony, which, said The Guardian, would find him facing much harsher conditions on a daily basis.

However, Navalny remained his defiant self during the hearing. “You can’t put everyone in prison. Even if you ask for 113 years, you won’t scare me or others like me,” he told the court.

He has also condemned Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, saying it was “the duty of every person” to oppose it.

Navalny’s aides and supporters, who insist he is innocent, said that Russia is seeking to keep Navalny jailed for life. “He was sentenced to life from the very start. So long as Putin is still in the Kremlin,” one wrote on Twitter.

Following his arrest, his political groups were declared “extremist” and shut down, while many key aides fled Russia. The authorities will hope that a longer sentence for Navalny will weaken the movement still further.

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