Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has lost his appeal against what he said was a politically motivated decision to jail him for nearly three years, and was found guilty of slander and fined in a separate case.
The double legal defeat had been anticipated by his supporters, who believe the Kremlin sees the 44-year-old opposition politician as a threat, a notion the Kremlin laughs off. It paves the way for Navalny to be moved from a Moscow jail to a prison camp outside the capital.
Navalny, in a speech to the court that referenced the Bible and Harry Potter, said his faith in God and belief in the rightness of his cause was sustaining him.
“Our country is built on injustice. But tens of millions of people want the truth. And sooner or later they’ll get it,” he said on Saturday, saying he had no regrets about returning to Russia and that “strength was in truth”.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, returned to Russia last month from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning in Siberia in August with what many Western nations said was a nerve agent.
He was jailed earlier this month for parole violations he said were trumped up. Western countries have condemned the case and are discussing possible sanctions on Russia.
Judge Dmitry Balashov rejected Navalny’s appeal against the February 2 ruling, which turned a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges into real jail time.
The judge decided to count six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, so he will now be imprisoned for just more than two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.
Navalny responded sarcastically to the ruling. “They’ve reduced the sentence by 1-1/2 months. Great!” he said from a courtroom glass cage.
Navalny’s allies reacted with anger.
“The court decision to keep Alexei in jail says only one thing. There is no law in Russia right now,” staff at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, who investigate alleged official corruption, wrote on Twitter.
Navalny had earlier told the judge he was not guilty of parole violations as a previous court had found.
The ruling came even as the country faced a top European rights court’s order to immediately free the Kremlin’s most prominent foe. The Russian government has rebuffed the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) demand to free Navalny immediately, describing its ruling on Tuesday as unlawful and “inadmissible” meddling in Russia’s affairs.
Later on Saturday, Navalny appeared in another court for a separate case and was ordered to pay a fine for calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” after he appeared in a pro-Kremlin video.
Navalny was convicted of slander and ordered to pay a fine 850,000 rubles ($11,400). Navalny has rejected the slander charges and described them as part of official efforts to disparage him.
Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment have fuelled a huge wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.
Russia has rejected Western criticism of Navalny’s arrest and the crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the ECHR ordered the Russian government to release Navalny, citing “the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life”. The Strasbourg-based court noted Navalny has contested Russian authorities’ argument that they had taken sufficient measures to safeguard his life and wellbeing in custody following the nerve agent attack.
In the past, Moscow has abided by the ECHR’s rulings awarding compensation to Russian citizens who have contested verdicts in Russian courts, but it never faced a demand by the European court to set a convict free.
In a sign of its long-held annoyance with the Strasbourg court’s verdicts, Russia last year adopted a constitutional amendment declaring the priority of national legislation over international law. Russian authorities might now use that provision to reject the ECHR’s ruling.