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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is pictured in the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2021.
© 2021 Moscow City Court via AP
A Moscow court ruled today that Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny had violated the terms of his probation and sent him to prison for 3.5 years. The court stated that since he’s already served a year under house arrest in 2014, he’ll have to serve 2 years and 8 months behind bars. While not a surprise, the ruling is monstrously unjust, and he should be immediately freed.
In his closing speech in court today Navalny, condemned the proceedings as unlawful, saying authorities aimed to “jail one person to intimidate millions.”
The Russian Penitentiary Service claims Navalny failed to report to the probation service between August 2020 and January 2021. In August, Navalny was nearly fatally poisoned in an attack independent investigators allege was organized and executed by Federal Security Service operatives. He was evacuated to Germany in a coma, recovered there and returned to Russia on January 17 to face widely anticipated arrest upon arrival.
In court, Navalny said for the past five years he has diligently reported twice a month, in compliance with rules of his probation, and that he sent notifications of his whereabouts as soon as he came out of coma.
His suspended sentence related to a 2014 fraud conviction, which the European Court of Human Rights condemned as “extensively and unforeseeably construed to their detriment,” following a fundamentally unfair trial. The Russian court handed Navalny a 3.5 year suspended sentence with a 5-year probation period.
In 2017, Navalny’s probation period was extended until the end of 2020, because he took part in unsanctioned protests. Using that extension, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service put Navalny on a wanted list for failure to report to a probation officer while he was recovering in Germany on the last day before his probation period expired.
Russian authorities were clearly sending Navalny a message not to return to Russia and now they are punishing him for refusing to comply.
Today’s ruling to substitute the suspended sentence — time that he has already served — with new prison time means that he will effectively serve two sentences for the same alleged crime.
The ruling was preceded by two weeks of nationwide protests, record numbers of detentions, and police brutality. Navalny’s imprisonment will inevitably further enrage people who see it as symptomatic of far wider injustice and corruption in the country.
This dispatch has been corrected to reflect the accurate amount of time Navalny will have to serve.