An appeals court in Russia has upheld a nine-year prison sentence for opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
The 45-year-old is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year prison term for violating parole on old fraud charges, and he had his jail time extended in March to nine years after he was found guilty of embezzlement and contempt of court.
Allies of Navalny — who is a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin — say the imprisonment is politically motivated.
At the appeal process in Moscow on Tuesday, Navalny’s lawyers opened the proceedings by denouncing the “unjust verdict”. Lawyer Olga Mikhailova said the judgement “violates international law and agreements”, and pointed to “procedural flaws” at the start of the hearing.
Alexei Navalny appeared by video conference from the Pokrov colony, 100 kilometres from Moscow, where he is serving a first sentence. Last Tuesday, at the opening of the trial, he had requested a one-week postponement in order to see his relatives, who had been granted visitation rights during the week.
Defence lawyers were not allowed to use a telephone or computer during the trial, which was held in a makeshift courtroom in the Pokrov settlement, which she said violated the “rights of the defence”.
Navalny is now expected to be transferred to a harsher penal colony for repeat offenders to serve out his sentence.
Who is Alexi Navalny?
Navalny rose to prominence as an anti-corruption blogger and, before his imprisonment, mobilised anti-government protests across Russia.
In 2018, he campaigned as a presidential candidate but was eventually barred from running in the election that saw Putin secure a fourth term in power.
In 2020, Navalny narrowly survived a poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-designed military-grade nerve agent.
Despite accusations from Navalny, the Kremlin denied any involvement.
He was arrested on his return from rehabilitation in Germany last year, sparking widespread condemnation abroad, as well as sanctions from Western capitals.
After his arrest, Navalny’s political organisations across the country were declared “extremist” and shut down, while key aides have fled Russia, with several wanted by Russian authorities on criminal charges.
Russia has recently ramped up pressure on independent media and non-governmental organisations, declaring many “foreign agents”, while others have stopped operating for fear of prosecution.