Landed, arrested, sentenced – in less than 24 hours: when Alexei Navalny returns, events come thick and fast. Critics call this unprecedented – even for Russia.
After his return from Germany, a Russian court sentenced the Kremlin opponent Alexej Navalny to 30 days in prison in an urgent procedure. The 44-year-old violated reporting requirements after an earlier criminal trial, it said. The detention is valid until February 15, said Nawalny’s spokeswoman Kira Jarmysch on Monday. The opposition leader criticized the process as a political staging with the aim of silencing him.
“That cannot even be described as a parody of the law,” said Jarmysch. Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobsew announced that he would appeal the verdict. Navalny called on people to demonstrate for him. “Don’t be afraid, take to the streets!” Said the 44-year-old in the negotiation room. His spokeswoman Kira Jarmysch published a video with the call.
Trial in police station
The Russian judiciary made an urgent trial of Navalny, who had returned to Moscow, directly in a police station. After returning from Berlin to Moscow, there was no trace of the 44-year-old since Sunday. On Monday he suddenly found himself in a police building outside a court. Lawyers criticized this as unprecedented – even by Russian standards. In a video on Twitter, Navalny complained that the judiciary in Russia had reached a new level of “lawlessness”.
“I have often seen how the rule of law is ridiculed, but this grandpa in his bunker is now so afraid (…) that now the code of criminal procedure is simply torn up and thrown on the dump,” said Navalny in the improvised Courtroom. By “grandpa in his bunker”, Navalny means the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who mostly works via video in his Moscow suburban residence because of the corona pandemic. “It is impossible what happens here,” said Navalny.
Nawalny’s lawyers had apparently received a letter informing them that a trial was to begin in the police building, which promptly opened without anyone being able to prepare. Nawalny’s lawyers and employees had previously stated that there was no trace of the opposition.
Arrested after returning to Russia
Navalny left Germany on Sunday after five months, where he was recovering from an attack with the neurotoxin Novitschok. He was arrested immediately after arriving in Moscow. The judiciary had put him out to be wanted. The Kremlin critic is said to have violated probation conditions in previous criminal proceedings during his stay in Germany. Specifically, the prison system accused him of not complying with the reporting requirements.
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) demanded the immediate release of Nawalny. “The Russian authorities arrested the victim of a murder attack with chemical weapons and not the perpetrators,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert in Berlin on Monday. “The German government therefore urges the Russian government to firstly release Mr. Navalny immediately; and secondly, to fully clarify the circumstances of the chemical weapons attack on Russian soil.” The Chancellor had also visited Navalny in Berlin at the Charité during his treatment.
EU demands release
In a joint declaration, the EU countries have also called for the immediate release of the Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny and warned the Russian government against further repression against the opposition and civil society. “The politicization of the judiciary is unacceptable, and Mr Navalny’s rights must be respected,” said the text published on Monday. The EU will take developments into account when shaping its Russia policy. The imprisonment of Navalny confirms the negative image that the space for the opposition, civil society and independent voices is shrinking in Russia.
Specifically, the EU states also accused the Russian authorities of having arrested journalists and supporters of Navalny. These should also be released immediately, according to the statement made by the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.