San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Moscow court rejects Kremlin critic’s appeal
MOSCOW — A Moscow court on Saturday rejected Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s appeal of his prison sentence, even as the country faced a top European rights court’s order to free the Kremlin’s most prominent foe.
A few hours later, a judge in a separate case ordered Navalny to pay a fine for defaming a World War II veteran.
During the first court hearing, Navalny urged Russians to stand up to the Kremlin in a fiery speech, mixing references to the Bible and “Harry Potter.”
“The government’s task is to scare you and then persuade you that you are alone,” he said. “Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off,” he added, in a reference to President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny also addressed the judge and the prosecutor, arguing they could have a much better life in a new Russia.
“Just imagine how wonderful life would be without constant lying,” he said. “Imagine how great it would be to work as a judge … when no one would be able to call you and give you directions what verdicts to issue.”
A lower court sentenced Navalny this month to two years and eight months in prison for violating terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.
Navalny, 44, an anticorruption crusader and Putin’s most vocal opponent, appealed the prison sentence and asked to be released. The Moscow City
Court judge on Saturday only slightly reduced his sentence to just over 2½ years in prison, ruling that a monthandhalf Navalny spent under house arrest in early 2015 should be deducted from his sentence.
The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful.
He insisted that he was unable to report to the authorities in line with his probation requirements while he was convalescing in Germany, emphasizing that he returned to Russia immediately after his health allowed.
“I wasn’t hiding,” he said. “The entire world knew where I was.”
After losing his appeal, Navalny had a second court hearing on charges of slandering the veteran and was ordered to pay 850,000 rubles (about $11,500). Navalny rejected the charges.
His arrest has fueled a wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms.