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Russia: Alexei Navalny sentenced to nine more years in prison

Photo at a demonstration against the Kremlin in defence of Alexei Navalny. (Photo by Liza Pooor via Unsplash)

The 45-year-old Russian opposition figure has been on trial since mid-February for fraud and offending a magistrate, charges he describes as political. He has already been serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for fraud for just over a year.

The imprisoned Russian opponent Alexei Navalny was sentenced on Tuesday 22 March to an additional nine years in prison after being found guilty of fraud and contempt of court.

“Navalny committed fraud, the theft of other people’s property by an organised 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.

In a series of tweets published in the aftermath, Alexei Navalny promised to continue his fight against the Kremlin and said that Vladimir Putin was “afraid of the truth”. “The fight against censorship – bringing the truth to the people of Russia – remains our priority,” he wrote.

Upon his return to Russia in January 2021, after five months of convalescence (after his failed poisoning attempt) he was arrested and then sentenced to eighteen months in prison for a 2014 “fraud” case involving French company Yves Rocher.

In June 2021, his organisations, which had been campaigning for years across Russia, were designated ‘extremist’ and banned outright, driving 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 remaining media outlets and NGOs critical of the Kremlin, has led to an outcry in Western countries and sanctions against Moscow.

Even from his prison colony, Alexei Navalny continues to transmit messages criticising Vladimir Putin’s power. 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, as the authorities have further strengthened their legal arsenal, with heavy prison sentences, to stifle any criticism of the Russian army.

Despite this, more than 15,000 people have been arrested in Russia in almost a month for demonstrating against the offensive, according to the specialist NGO OVD-Info. At the same time, the Russian authorities have tightened their grip on the dissemination of information about the conflict, blocking access to dozens of local and foreign media in Russia. On Monday, the Russian judiciary also banned the popular American social networks Instagram and Facebook, accused, like Mr Navalny, of “extremism”. These are already blocked in Russia, as are Twitter and TikTok.

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