A Russian court has sentenced jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny to nine years in a maximum-security prison on new embezzlement and contempt of court charges.
Tuesday’s verdict has been seen as an attempt to keep President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent critic in prison for as long as possible.
Navalny was jailed last year for two and a half years in a penal colony on old fraud charges after surviving an attempt to poison him with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, that he blames on the Kremlin.
A judge ruled on Tuesday that Navalny would also have to pay a fine of 1.2 million roubles ($11,500). Navalny can appeal the ruling.
Navalny had been accused of embezzling money that he and his foundation raised over the years and of insulting a judge during a previous trial.
The politician has rejected the allegations as politically motivated. The prosecution had asked for 13 years in a maximum-security prison for the anti-corruption crusader and a 1.2-million-rouble ($11,500) fine.
The trial, which opened about a month ago, unfolded in a makeshift courtroom in the prison colony hours away from Moscow where Navalny is serving a sentence for parole violations.
Navalny’s supporters have criticised the authorities’ decision to move the proceedings from a court in Moscow, saying it has effectively limited access to the proceedings for the media and supporters.
Navalny, 45, has appeared at hearings wearing prison garb and made several elaborate speeches during the trial, decrying the charges against him as bogus.
Navalny was arrested in January last year immediately upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months convalescing from a poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin, a claim Russian officials vehemently denied.
Shortly after the arrest, a court sentenced him to prison for the parole violations stemming from a 2014 suspended sentence in a fraud case that Navalny has insisted was politically motivated.
Following Navalny’s imprisonment, authorities unleashed a sweeping crackdown on his associates and supporters.
His closest allies have left Russia after facing multiple criminal charges, and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of nearly 40 regional offices were outlawed as “extremist” – a designation that exposes people involved to prosecution.
Last month, Russian officials added Navalny and a number of his associates to a state registry of “extremists” and “terrorists”.
Several criminal cases have been launched against Navalny individually, leading his associates to suggest the Kremlin intends to keep him behind bars for as long as possible.