Wednesday, October 20

Navalny prosecutors seek three and a half years in jail | Alexei Navalny

Russian state prosecutors are poised to jail opposition leader Alexei Navalny for three and a half years, and the Kremlin ignores US complaints about his case on Monday ahead of a crucial court hearing on Tuesday.

Navalny, who was jailed after flying back to Moscow last month, faces the prospect of a long period behind bars. Vladimir Putin’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would ignore the statements of the Biden administration, following the massive pro-Navalny protests on Sunday.

After protesters took to the streets in 90 towns and cities across the country, riot police responded with a massive show of force. They made a record number of arrests, detaining 5,300 people, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was captured in northeast Moscow.

The Kremlin’s apparent strategy is to resist mounting street protests, which will likely continue Tuesday when Navalny appears in court. The Moscow prison service has demanded a three-and-a-half-year sentence for alleged parole violations.

Navalny says the charges are bogus and politically motivated. He is charged with failing to meet with his probation officer while he was in Germany recovering from novichok poisoning. Navalny alleges that Putin authorized a botched operation by the FSB spy agency last August to kill him in Siberia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Moscow’s heavy-handed tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists and called for Navalny’s release. “We are deeply concerned by this violent repression against people who exercise their right to peacefully protest against their government,” he said.


Who is Alexei Navalny?

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Born in 1976 on the outskirts of Moscow, Alexei Navalny is a lawyer-turned-activist whose Anti-corruption Foundation investigates the wealth of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

He started out as a Russian nationalist, but emerged as the main leader of Russia’s democratic opposition during the wave of protests that led to the 2012 presidential elections, and has since been a thorn in the side of the Kremlin.

Navalny is banned from appearing on state television, but has used social media to his advantage. A 2017 documentary accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of corruption received more than 30 million views on YouTube in two months.

He has been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned. The European human rights court ruled that Russia violated Navalny’s rights by keeping him under house arrest in 2014. Election officials barred him from running for president in 2018 due to a conviction for embezzlement that he claimed was politically motivated. Navalny told the commission that his decision would be a vote ‘not against me, but against the 16,000 people who have nominated me; against 200,000 volunteers who have been requesting me. ‘

There has also been a physical price to pay. In April 2017, he was attacked with a green tint that nearly blinded him in one eye, and in July 2019 he was taken from jail to hospital with symptoms that one of his doctors said could indicate poisoning. In 2020, he was hospitalized again after suspected poisoning and taken to Germany for treatment. The German government later said that toxicology results showed Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

Photograph: Pavel Golovkin / AP

Blinken said that frustration with official corruption and growing autocracy had fueled popular protests: “I think [Kremlin officials] We need to look inward, not outward … Mr. Navalny is giving expression to the voices of millions and millions of Russians. And that’s what this is all about. “

The White House was examining the possibility of imposing more sanctions in the wake of Moscow’s “deeply disturbing” actions, Blinken said. These included SolarWinds’ recent cyberattack on US federal institutions and claims that Russia was offering rewards to Taliban fighters for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Speaking on Monday, Peskov warned against new sanctions. “We are not prepared to accept or heed American statements on this,” he said. He described the pro-Navalny protests as illegal. “There can be no conversation with hooligans and provocateurs, the law must be applied with the utmost severity,” he told reporters.

Navalny’s allies have published a list of oligarchs and officials linked to Putin and called on the West to sanction them. So far, however, neither Boris Johnson nor Joe Biden have taken action. Biden and Putin spoke by phone last week for the first time since the president’s inauguration.

Navalny, 44, is serving a 30-day jail sentence. His wife appeared in Shcherbinsky court in Moscow on Monday and was fined 20,000 rubles (£ 192) for participating in what authorities say was an unauthorized protest. His lawyer, Svetlana Davydova, said she would appeal.

Moscow’s detention centers are overflowing, with 1,800 people arrested in the capital last weekend. Novaya Gazeta reported Monday. Some protesters have been held for days in police wagons, and others have been transferred to a detention center for migrants, the newspaper said.

Pavel Chikov, a lawyer and rights defender, said police had opened 40 criminal cases in 18 different regions related to the two weekends of demonstrations. Navalny has asked his supporters to gather in front of the Moscow court during his hearing on Tuesday, which authorities will surely qualify as an illegal protest.

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