Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has appeared in a Moscow court facing charges of insulting a World War II veteran, after being ordered to prison in a separate case that sparked global outrage and mass protests in Russia
The hearing came a little over one week after the 44-year-old opposition leader, a persistent thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin, was sentenced to serve nearly three years in jail.
Heavily-armed riot police surrounded the court before Friday’s hearing and set up cordons outside.
The Kremlin critic was charged after he criticised a video broadcast by state media last year, in which several citizens spoke out in favour of changing Russia’s constitution – a change critics say cemented President Vladimir Putin’s control of the government.
Navalny tweeted a clip of the video, calling the people who appeared in it “traitors”. One was a veteran who had fought in World War II and said he was so offended by Navalny’s comments that they led his health to deteriorate, prompting him to press defamation charges.
Navalny on Friday told the judge that she was selected for the trial because she was “the most unscrupulous judge in the world” and should go back to school to become better acquainted with Russian laws.
Navalny has denied the accusations and said the case was politically motivated.
His lawyer called the trial another attempt to silence Navalny, a vocal critic of Putin.
Navalny has also suggested that the 94-year-old veteran was mentally unable to follow the trial and is a “puppet” in the proceedings.
The veteran had tuned in to the proceedings’ first day by video from his home, but did not appear on Friday. Instead, his lawyer read his biography for 20 minutes and highlighted his wartime achievements – which Navalny complained had nothing to do with the trial at hand.
Several witnesses were called to testify against Navalny on Friday; however, one who wanted to testify in his defence was initially not allowed in. Navalny complained the older man had been left outside in -15C weather on purpose and chastised the court.
If convicted, Navalny could face fines, compulsory labour or prison.
Navalny has already been sentenced to almost three years in prison in a separate case, on charges of violating parole for a fraud conviction.
This was despite the fact that he could not report to parole officers because he had to be taken to Germany while comatose after an attack with a nerve agent, then stayed there to recuperate for several months. The attack has widely been blamed on Russian agents.
Navalny was immediately arrested on returning to Russia, leading to massive protests across the country.
His supporters are planning a decentralised, peaceful protest action on Sunday to make it harder for police to arrest them. Supporters across Russia plan stand in front of their homes and hold torches aloft.