MOSCOW (RUSSIA) – A court in Russia on Tuesday examined whether to imprison Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for up to three and a half years in a case that has evoked nationwide interest amid talks of Western curbs.
Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested at the Russian border on Jan. 17 for alleged parole violations after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia.
Navalny accuses Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies. It has suggested that Navalny is a CIA asset, a charge he rejects, and has told the West to stay out of its domestic affairs.
A serious jail term for Navalny would become a point of tension with the West, like the case of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another Putin critic, who spent 10 years in prison after being arrested in 2003.
On the eve of the hearing, a close Navalny ally urged the West to hit Putin’s inner circle with personal sanctions, predicting that could trigger potentially destabilising infighting among Russia’s elite.
Navalny watched Tuesday’s hearing from inside a glass cage in the courtroom. Before proceedings began, he praised Yulia, his wife, who was present after being fined the previous day for taking part in a protest to demand his release.
“They said that you had seriously violated public order and were a bad girl. I’m proud of you,” Navalny said.
Moscow’s state prison authority accuses Navalny of parole violations relating to a suspended sentence he had been serving in an embezzlement case he calls trumped up.
On Tuesday, it repeated its request for the court to convert that suspended sentence into a real jail term of up to three and a half years.
A prison service representative told the court that Navalny had violated public order many times since being handed the original suspended sentence and that he had systematically failed to report in to register.
Navalny says he was unable to report to the prison service at the end of last year because he was recovering in Germany from being poisoned. The prison service said its complaints pre-dated his poisoning and that Navalny had in any case been well enough to meet journalists after being discharged from a Berlin hospital in September.
Navalny, who is already serving a 30-day detention sentence in connection with the same case, told the court that the whole country knew he had been poisoned and was in Germany at the end of last year.
“On what grounds are you saying you didn’t know where I was? You’re misleading the court,” he told the prison service official, who told Navalny he should have got in touch to formally inform the service of his circumstances.