Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny jailed

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny jailed”

The Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison by a Moscow court, just two weeks after he returned to his home country following an attempt on his life in August.

The decision to turn a 2014 suspended sentence into real jail time will see Mr Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner who accuses the Kremlin of poisoning him last year, serve a lengthy prison term for the first time. With time already spent in detention he will spend another two years and eight months behind bars.

More than 5,600 people were detained in 90 cities during protests Sunday, according to the monitoring group OVD-Info, which tracks political persecution in Russian Federation.

In its most recent investigation, Navalny's team accused Putin of being gifted an opulent palace on the Black Sea coast in a video that garnered more than 100 million views on YouTube.

OVD-Info says it is an independent Russian media project, which gets crowdfunding in Russia and its donors include the Memorial human rights group and the European Commission. More than 300 people were arrested Tuesday for trying to protest outside the court.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the jailing a violation of Navalny's rights and demanded his release.

After the ruling, Navalny's allies called on his supporters to protest in the centre of Moscow.

Speaking in court, Navalny denounced the accusations against him as fabricated and driven by President Vladimir Putin's "fear and hatred", saying that the Russian leader will go down in history as a "poisoner". His brother Oleg, top ally Lyubov Sobol and several others were put under house arrest for two months and face criminal charges of violating coronavirus restrictions.

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Police officers detained a Navalny supporter at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.

Mr Navalny's arrest and the mass detentions have triggered a wave of condemnation from the West, with many leaders calling for his release and some urging new sanctions against Moscow.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who will visit Moscow later this week, has criticised the detentions and the disproportionate use of force against protesters, emphasizing that Russian Federation must comply with its global commitments on human rights.

Navalny, in a fiery speech to the court, alleged he was jailed because of Putin's concerns about him as a political rival, a suggestion the Kremlin has laughed off, referring to Navalny as a troublesome blogger without wide popular support. The suspended sentence dates back to an embezzlement case that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled as unfair.

Putin insisted last week that neither he nor his relatives own any of the properties mentioned in the video, and his long time confidant, construction magnate Arkady Rotenberg, claimed that he owns it.

In a statement to RBC news channel, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, issued a scathing response to the growing worldwide criticism by asking countries to not meddle in the Kremlin's internal affairs.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, says Navalny's case is exclusively a domestic matter and that Russian Federation will not take instructions from foreign governments.

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