Mon, November 29, 2021

in-focus

Russian opposition leader Navalny ordered to remain jailed as supporters plan more protests


MOSCOW -- A Moscow judge denied Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's appeal for release from detention Thursday, after the opposition leader slammed the court process and thanked protesters for showing that his supporters "cannot be intimidated."

Navalny spoke via a video link from a bare room with a single chair in his Moscow pretrial detention center. He was detained Jan. 17 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he recovered from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning.

Tens of thousands of protesters across more than 100 Russian cities and towns demonstrated in Navalny's support last Saturday, and more than 3,700 people were reported arrested. More protests have been called for Sunday.

Navalny said authorities may have the upper hand at the moment, "but it will not last forever."

"I want to express my full support to all those who come out in the streets because only they are the last obstacle to complete degradation of our country, the last obstacle for those in power to steal everything," Navalny said in his closing message at the hearing. "These people are in fact defenders of our country and patriots of our country.

"You won't be able to scare us," he added. "We are the majority. Tens of millions of people, whom this power has robbed, cannot be intimidated. More and more people now understand that the law is on our side, the truth is on our side, we are the majority, and we will not let a bunch of scoundrels impose their order on us."

The 44-year-old Navalny has said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a toxic attack on him during Navalny's trip to Siberia last summer. The Kremlin has denied that, rebuffing international calls to investigate the incident.

Wearing a navy hoodie, Navalny chatted via video link with his attorney Olga Mikhailova, who told him about Wednesday's sweeping police crackdown on the opposition. Police searched Navalny's apartment and detained more key allies.

Leonid Volkov, chief of Navalny's national network of regional headquarters, was charged with urging minors to protest in support of Navalny's freedom. Navalny's brother Oleg and another close ally, Lyubov Sobol, were detained on charges of breaching coronavirus restrictions during Saturday's protests.

"Sobol, too? And Oleg for what?" Navalny asked his lawyer before the hearing began. In a conference room, journalists watched two screens showing Navalny at the detention center, and the judge and Navalny's lawyers in the courtroom. Navalny took notes during much of the hearing, asking the judge to repeat his name so he could note it.

On Jan. 18, in a makeshift courtroom set up inside a Moscow police station near the airport, Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in a pretrial detention center pending his Feb. 2 trial for allegedly violating probation terms. Thursday's hearing was to appeal the current detention.

As the judge exited the courtroom, one of Navalny's attorneys asked the bailiff approximately how long it would take before a verdict was announced.

"Not long," the bailiff replied.

"Not long," Navalny repeated sarcastically.

The judge deliberated for just five minutes before announcing that Navalny would not be released.

He then asked if Navalny understood the verdict, to which Navalny replied: "Actually, everything was clear even before the start of the trial. Thank you."

Navalny's lawyers said they would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights over his 30-day detention. Volkov said there was no known legal basis for Navalny's continued detention. Navalny faces court Tuesday, when he could be jailed on charges that he violated the terms of a 3½-year suspended sentence in a 2014 case. That case has been declared to be political by the European rights court.

Navalny complained to the judge that he had been given no opportunity to confer with his attorneys, Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev, since he was detained. The judge told him he could do so over video in the court hearing, but Navalny asked for privacy.

"I'm looking at two guards who are filming me and have stern expressions," Navalny said. Judge Musa Musaev told them to leave and ordered a 10-minute break to allow him to speak to his attorney.

Navalny appeared in good spirits at times, grinning at the camera and joking to the guards. "Well, I've gotten you kicked out," as they were ordered to leave.

Kobzev submitted documents stating that Navalny was receiving treatment in Berlin until Jan. 15, two days before he flew home. He told the court that bailiffs were informed of Navalny's address in Berlin - "the whole world knew" where he was, Kobzev said - and that there was no evidence he was violating the terms of his probation by hiding from authorities.

At his last court appearance Jan. 18, Navalny was able to record a video message for his supporters, imploring them to "take to the streets."

He stopped short of that sort of call this time, instead devoting most of his speaking opportunities to opining on Russia's "lawlessness" as an intimidation factor for its citizens, citing last week's makeshift courtroom at a police station as an example.

Mikhailova, Navalny's attorney, said big protest turnouts could influence Navalny's next trial "because if no one talks about this, then [officials] can do anything."

"We see that people are interested, and they understand that Alexei is not being treated fairly," she said. "As of now, whatever the authorities want is being satisfied despite all norms of the law."

Published : January 29, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Isabelle Khurshudyan, Robyn Dixon