MOSCOW — A Moscow appeals court on Saturday rejected opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s demand to be released from custody, ensuring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest critic remains behind bars.
The ruling effectively removes Russia’s most influential opposition leader from the political scene ahead of parliamentary elections in the fall.
In his statement at the court hearing on Saturday, Navalny, dressed in green trousers and a checkered shirt, said that despite his jailing, he did not feel discouraged.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” he said, citing a passage from the Bible. The dissident also cited the Harry Potter books, comparing Putin to the archvillain Voldemort.
Navalny is now set to appear in a second hearing for allegedly defaming a World War Two veteran on Twitter.
His spokeswoman said: “There is no law in Russia now. There are no rights. There is one crazy little old man who has been running the country for 20 years, guided only by his fear and hatred.”
Navalny has been held at a detention center in Moscow ever since he was arrested upon returning to Russia from Germany last month, where he was undergoing treatment for poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent in an attack which he has blamed on the Kremlin.
Earlier this month a court had sentenced the opposition leader to two years and eight months of jail time for breaching the terms of his parole in connection to a 2014 embezzlement case, by staying in Germany beyond his immediate recovery. Тhe court on Saturday reduced that sentence by two months.
State media has used the defamation case to depict Navalny as a traitor, while Navalny himself has used his court appearances to trash the Russian authorities and legal system as corrupt and biased.
Prosecutors have asked the court to hand him a fine of 950,000 rubles, around €10,600.
Navalny is facing a third legal case for embezzlement, which could add another ten years to his sentence.
EU governments are expected to discuss imposing sanctions on Russia over Navalny’s treatment, whose team has called for travel bans and asset freezes on members of Putin’s inner circle.
The discussion follows a controversial visit by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell earlier in February, which saw Russia expel three EU diplomats for allegedly taking part in a pro-Navalny rally while the EU’s top diplomat was still on Russian soil.
In an interview following Borrell’s visit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was prepared to break ties with the EU if the situation demanded it.
Addressing the prospect of new sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday said he hoped a “common sense approach to the situation will prevail,” adding that sanctions had “more than once proved their ineffectiveness.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)