Russia: 20 years in prison required against rival Alexey Navalny

Twenty years in prison have been sought against already-jailed Russian rival Alexei Navalny, who was tried behind closed doors for a month in a new trial for “extremism” that reflects an atmosphere of repression in Russia amid the conflict in Ukraine.

Since the start of the Russian offensive against Ukraine in February 2022, almost all major opponents have been imprisoned or exiled. Thousands of ordinary Russians were also prosecuted, particularly for denouncing the conflict.

His relatives wrote on Telegram messaging, “Prosecution is seeking 20 years in prison for Navalny, who will be held in a special regime colony.” The verdict will be pronounced on August 4, he added.

“Special regime” colonies are penitentiary establishments with the most sinister reputations in Russia, usually for the most dangerous criminals and lifeguards.

The 47-year-old anti-corruption activist, who is already serving a nine-year prison sentence for “fraud” at a very high-security establishment, faces up to 30 years in prison in the new trial, which specifically accuses him of creating and funding an “extremist” organisation.

Alexey Navalny, a favorite of President Vladimir Putin who is regularly sent to a correctional facility, characterizes the cases as political vendettas.

In his last statements before sentencing on August 4, Mr. Navalny once again condemned the Russian offensive in Ukraine, referring to “thousands of deaths in the most senseless and senseless war of the 21st century,” according to comments circulated on his Telegram account by his aides.

He called for trusting not only intelligence but also “conscience”, saying, “Soon (Russia) will recover. And it depends on us whom it will trust in the future.”

– EU sanctions –

Alexey Navalny, a longtime opponent of the Kremlin, narrowly escaped poisoning in 2020, which he blamed Russian security services on Mr Putin’s orders.

Russian opponent Alexei Navalny (standing) in video link during a court hearing at the IK-6 penal colony in Melekhovo, Russia June 19, 2023 (AFP – Natalia Kolesnikova)

Imprisoned since January 2021, his trial is taking place behind closed doors at the IK-6 penal colony in Melekhovo, 250 km east of Moscow.

The European Union announced Thursday that it has sanctioned five entities, including the head of this penal colony and Russian penitentiary services, on a list of 12 individuals in Russia responsible for “serious violations of human rights” because of their involvement in crackdowns against protesters, particularly in Moscow.

Alexey Navalny has particularly distinguished himself by investigating corruption within Vladimir Putin’s system and organizing mass demonstrations. His organisation, the Fund for the Prevention of Corruption (FBK), was closed in 2021 due to “extremism”.

Mr Navalny also says he is the subject of a “terrorism” case in a separate process for which he risks life in prison, but few details are known at this stage.

Since his imprisonment, Mr Navalny has continued to periodically post messages on social networks through his lawyers and aides, continuing to display fighting spirit despite particularly difficult prison conditions.

In a previous message on 27 June, Rival described his surprise when he learned of the aborted mutiny of the paramilitary group Wagner, delayed by several days due to the disciplinary cell.

The IK-6 penal colony where rival Alexei Navalny is detained in Melekhovo, Russia, June 23, 2022 (AFP/Archive - Natalia Kolesnikova)
The IK-6 penal colony where rival Alexei Navalny is detained in Melekhovo, Russia, June 23, 2022 (AFP/Archive – Natalia Kolesnikova)

Mr Navalny then believed Vladimir Putin was the “biggest threat” to Russia, whose “inevitable collapse” threatened to start a “civil war”.

On Tuesday, he ironically spoke about his new trial, “full of solid evidence of guilt,” by publishing a copy of an alleged prosecution document that cited, among other things, an anti-Putin message on a bitcoin wallet address used for donations to his organization in 2021.

For his third birthday in prison on June 4, he vowed to keep his spirits up despite being in the disciplinary cell for 16 days.

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