People participate in a demonstration after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to three and a half years in jail, in Moscow, Russia. (Image: Reuters)
A Moscow court sent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to prison for more than two and a half years on February 2, ignoring the West in a ruling the opposition politician blamed on President Vladimir Putin’s personal hatred and fear of him.
The court handed Navalny a three-and-a-half-year sentence, but his lawyer said the anti-corruption blogger would actually serve two years and eight months in jail because of time already spent under house arrest. His lawyers said they would appeal.
The decision followed nationwide protests calling for Navalny’s release. After the court’s ruling, his supporters encouraged people to gather in central Moscow to protest. According to Reuters' reporters, hundreds of protesters and the police detain some of them. Some of them chanted, “Putin is a thief!” and “Putin is a poisoner!”
The Russian police arrested more than 1,050 people during the rallies, according to the NGO OVD-Info. The organisation, which specialises in monitoring protests, said most of the arrests were in Moscow, where rallies were held in the evening after the court handed Navalny in jail.
Earlier in the day, riot police detained around 70 of Navalny’s supporters outside the court. The OVD-Info monitoring group later reported 503 arrests across Moscow.
Navalny, one of Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested on January 17 for alleged parole violations after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.
Navalny said Russian state security agents had put the poison in his underpants, something the Kremlin denied.
Navalny, in a fiery speech to the court, alleged he was going to be jailed because of Putin’s concerns about him as a political rival, a suggestion the Kremlin has laughed off, referring to Navalny as a marginal figure without wide popular support.
Putin, 68, has dominated Russian politics since 2000 and could rule until 2036 under constitutional changes approved in a referendum in 2020.
After Navalny’s verdict was read out, Yulia, his wife, removed the mask she was wearing because of the coronavirus pandemic and waved to her husband before giving him a shrug. Navalny shouted: “Don’t worry. Everything will be ok.”(With inputs from agencies)