Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
Mr Navalny was given the prison sentence at the Simovsky District Court on Tuesday over allegations that he violated conditions of a suspended sentence issued in 2014. The prison sentence replaces his suspended sentence, minus the amount of time he spent under house arrest, meaning he is set to spend two years and eight months in prison.
The sentence in 2014 was for money laundering – though it has been widely claimed that the allegations and sentence were politically motivated.
Navalny is seen as President Vladimir Putin’s most notable critic. A lawyer, liberal activist and anti-corruption campaigner, Mr Navalny became a leading blogger with millions of followers. In 2018, he established a political party, ‘Russia of the Future’, but was barred from standing in the Presidential Elections that year due to two previous suspended sentences.
On 17 January this year, Navalny returned to Russia from Berlin, Germany, where he had been recovering after being poisoned in Russia through a Novichok nerve agent attack in August 2020. Immediately after his return, he was detained on accusations of violating parole conditions.
Navalny’s team claims that the Kremlin ordered his murder, though the Kremlin has denied these claims.
Since Navalny’s detainment on 17 January, a number of protests have taken place in different locations in Russia, including on 23 January and 31 January. The number of protesters that have taken to the streets in recent weeks is disputed, though more than 9,000 people have been arrested according to reports.
The UK and the US were among countries to condemn “harsh tactics” used against protesters at rallies and other demonstrations on 23 January.
On Tuesday, more than 300 protesters were arrested for gathering outside court to demand Navalny’s release, according to reports. Navalny’s prison sentence is likely to prompt the continuation of protests by his supporters, and also further international concern. The UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said;
“The UK calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Alexey Navalny and all of the peaceful protesters and journalists arrested over the last two weeks. Today’s perverse ruling, targeting the victim of a poisoning rather than those responsible, shows Russia is failing to meet the most basic commitments expected of any responsible member of the international community.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has also reiterated calls for Navalny’s release.