Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny faces a court hearing on Tuesday that could end his imprisonment for years.
The 44-year-old, an anti-corruption investigator who is the most prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he attributes to the Kremlin.
The Russian authorities deny the charge and claim, despite tests from several European laboratories, that they have no proof that he was poisoned.
Russia’s prison service alleges that Navalny violated the probation conditions of his suspended sentence of a 2014 money laundering conviction that he has rejected on political grounds.
He has asked the Simonovsky District Court in Moscow to convert his 3.5-year suspended sentence into one he must serve in prison.
Navalny and his lawyers have argued that while recovering in Germany from the poisoning, he was unable to register with Russian authorities in person as required by the terms of his probation.
Navalny also insisted that his due process rights were grossly violated during his arrest and described his incarceration as a parody of justice.
Navalny’s imprisonment has sparked mass protests in Russia over the past two weekends, in which tens of thousands took to the streets to demand his release, chanting anti-Putin slogans.
Police detained more than 5,750 people during Sunday’s demonstrations, including more than 1,900 in Moscow, the most the nation has seen since Soviet times.
Most were released after receiving a subpoena and face fines or jail terms of seven to 15 days. Several people face criminal charges for alleged violence against the police.
One of those detained for several hours was Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who on Monday was ordered to pay a fine of about 219 euros for participating in an unauthorized demonstration.
Navalny’s team has called for another demonstration on Tuesday in front of the Moscow court building.
Police fanned out near the court building and cordoned off nearby streets, making random arrests.
After his arrest, Navalny’s team posted a two-hour YouTube video of an opulent Black Sea residence allegedly built for Putin.
The video has been viewed more than 100 million times, fueling discontent as ordinary Russians grapple with an economic recession and the coronavirus pandemic.
Putin insisted last week that neither he nor his relatives own any of the properties mentioned in the video, and his longtime confidant, construction magnate Arkady Rotenberg, claimed that he was the owner of the mansion.
As part of efforts to quell the protests, authorities have targeted Navalny associates and activists across the country.
His brother Oleg, his main ally Lyubov Sobol and several others were placed under house arrest for two months and face criminal charges for violating coronavirus restrictions.
Navalny’s incarceration and crackdown on protests have fueled international outrage, with Western officials calling for his release and condemning the arrests of protesters.
Russia has dismissed comments from foreign officials as interference in its internal affairs.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism