Another 20 years for jailed Russian critic Navalny? What you should know

Navalny, a constant thorn in Putin’s side, could be handed yet another lengthy sentence on Friday on a slew of extremism charges.

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from a penal colony in the Vladimir region, during a hearing at a court in Moscow [File:Yulia Morozova/Reuters]

A Russian court is set to deliver its verdict in the trial of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who is facing a slew of new extremism charges which could keep him imprisoned for decades.

The decision will be announced on Friday at a closed-door trial and comes after prosecutors requested a 20-year prison sentence for Navalny last month.

In his closing statements, 47-year-old Navalny condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“[Russia is] floundering in a pool of either mud or blood, with broken bones, with a poor and robbed population, and around it lie tens of thousands of people killed in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century,” he said.

On the eve of the verdict, he said he expects a “Stalinist” sentence of about 18 years.

What is Navalny accused of?

Navalny, a former lawyer, rose to prominence more than 10 years ago by exposing large-scale corruption in his country.

He returned to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he was treated for what tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia.

The Putin critic has been accused of fraud – stealing donations to fund an outlawed presidential bid – and charges including extremism. He is already serving an 11 and a half-year prison sentence in a maximum security penal colony in Melekhovo, 250km (150 miles) east of Moscow.

Russia has banned Navalny’s campaign organisation as part of a crackdown on dissent that started well before the conflict in Ukraine.

Earlier this year, two heads of his regional offices, Lilia Chanysheva and Vadim Ostanin, were sentenced to seven and a half and nine years respectively on extremism charges – which Navalny slammed as an “absurd” tactic to “further silence him”.

Russian prosecutors provided him with 3,828 pages describing all the crimes he is alleged to have committed while in prison, he said.

“Although it’s clear from the size of the tomes that I am a sophisticated and persistent criminal, it’s impossible to find out what exactly I am accused of,” he said.

Throughout his political career and activism, he has dismissed all of the charges against him.

What does the Kremlin say?

While human rights groups and Western governments view Navalny as a political prisoner, the Kremlin has repeatedly denied trying to kill him and often declines to comment on his imprisonment, saying it is a “case for the courts”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not utter the name of his nemesis and has in the past referred to him as “this gentleman” and the “Berlin patient”.

In 2021, in an interview with NBC, he called Navalny “this person” and when pressed to mention his name, said “I don’t care”.

In April, Russian investigators linked Navalny to the death of the popular military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed by a bomb in a Saint Petersburg cafe.

Navalny’s allies have denied any connection.

What are the conditions of Navalny’s imprisonment?

The jailed anti-corruption crusader remains imprisoned in a tiny one-person cell, also called a “punishment cell”, in the penal colony.

He will continue to spend his last days before the verdict in this cell.

His associates and supporters have accused prison authorities of failing to provide him with proper medical assistance and voiced concern about his failing health.

But even from prison, Navalny continues communicating with his supporters.

He has built a huge social media following by producing videos providing evidence of systemic corruption among Russian elites, and communicates about his life in prison with the help of his team.

“Someday I’m gonna do a top list of my best moments in prison,” he joked in a statement on social media last month.

Source: News Agencies