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More than 1,400 protesters have been arrested in Russia amid Moscow street battles after the Kremlin’s most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, was jailed for two and a half years.
Hundreds of people were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Tuesday when riot police clashed with Navalny supporters, who took to the streets of Russia over the past two weekends to demand his release.
As the protesters shouted ‘Putin is a poisoner!’ and ‘Putin is a thief’, riot police beat protesters with batons and chased them through the streets with 1,408 arrested in total, according to a watchdog group.
In a fierce court speech, Navalny himself had accused Vladimir Putin of trying to intimidate critics of him and said the court was “putting one person behind bars to scare millions.”
The 44-year-old is scheduled to serve around two years and eight months in prison after a suspended sentence for a 2014 embezzlement conviction was updated in real time in jail.
Russian authorities accused him of disobeying the terms of his probation, but Navalny said he could hardly have arranged to date him while he was recovering from the Novichok attack last summer, which he blamed on the Kremlin.
The verdict sparked outrage from the West, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Biden’s White House would “hold Russia accountable,” but Moscow generally accused the West of interfering in its own affairs. .
Protesters line up against a wall, watched by a riot police officer, during an unsanctioned rally after Navalny’s court hearing
As his sentence was read, Navalny made a heart sign with his hands and smiled at his wife Yulia from behind the glass panel of their cell.
She told Yulia, that she had traveled with him from Germany last month and she was crying when she read the verdict: “Don’t be sad, everything will be fine.”
Navalny, who was arrested at a Moscow border post upon his return to Russia, was tried for violating the terms of a 2014 embezzlement conviction, for which he received a suspended sentence of three and a half years.
The Moscow court today ordered Navalny to serve his original sentence in a penal colony, minus the year he already spent under house arrest.
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Navalny says the 2014 fraud conviction was based on false accusations, while the European Court of Human Rights has also raised concerns about the verdict.
His brother, wife and other allies have also been arrested and some of them fined by Russian courts in recent days in an offensive against the opposition movement.
His legal team plans to appeal the latest verdict, said his lawyer Olga Mikhailov, and Navalny is expected to remain detained in Moscow during that process.
Navalny and his lawyers have argued that while he was recovering in Germany from the poisoning, he could not register with the Russian authorities in person as required by his parole.
“I returned to Moscow after completing the treatment,” Navalny said during Tuesday’s hearing. ‘What else could I have done?’
A Navalny supporter is escorted away from protests outside the Great Hostiny Dvor Shopping Centre in downtown St Petersburg last night
As Navalny faced his first night in prison, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined a chorus of world leaders calling for the Kremlin critic’s release.
Alexey Navalny’s decision to return to Russia after being poisoned was a truly courageous and selfless act. In contrast, today’s ruling was sheer cowardice and does not meet the most basic standards of fairness. Alexey Navalny must be released immediately, ‘said the prime minister.
French President Emmanuel Macron also called for his release, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the decision “far removed from any rule of law.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who will visit Moscow later this week, said he “goes against Russia’s international commitments on the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.”
Dmitry Polyanksiy, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, responded to criticism from Washington by referring to recent political problems in the United States.
‘A Russian citizen sentenced by a Russian court in accordance with Russian law. Who gave us the right to judge whether he was wrongful or not? Won’t you mind your own business, gentlemen? Recent events show that there are many things you need to repair, ” he said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the Western reaction as “disconnected from reality”, adding: “There is no need to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”