The Russian prosecution has urged a Moscow court to sentence opposition leader Alexei Navalny to three and a half years in prison in a case widely seen as an attempt to neutralize President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.
In a tense hearing in the Simonovsky court in Moscow on Tuesday, which intermittently escalated into feuds between legal teams, prosecutors alleged that Mr Navalny, 44, had violated the terms of a suspended sentence for fraud which he received in 2014 by not immediately returning to Russia. from Germany after recovering from nerve poisoning last fall.
The presiding judge suspended the hearing at 11 a.m. GMT for two hours, interrupting a session in which Mr Navalny argued that he was unable to attend mandatory court meetings while he was ill because he was ill. he was unable to work.
“I was in a coma,” said Navalny, sitting in a glass cage inside the courtroom, in a loud voice when prosecutors accused him of “hiding” d ‘them in Berlin. “Why do you say you didn’t know where I was?” You are misleading the court, ”he added.
As Mr. Navalny and his lawyers engaged in sometimes aggressive and difficult arguments with prosecutors in Room 635 of the Moscow City Courthouse, police outside arrested 237 of his supporters who had left gathered to protest his detention, according to OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors the arrests.
Mr Navalny’s arrest immediately after his flight home to Moscow last month sparked the biggest protests in modern Russian history. Protests in more than 120 cities across the country have drawn on popular anger over corruption, injustice and declining living standards. Police arrested more than 10,000 protesters over the past two weekends.
The anti-corruption activist claims the charges against him are Mr Putin’s revenge for surviving the poisoning – which he and several Western governments have blamed on the Kremlin.
Mr Navalny’s detention demonstrates the Kremlin’s growing determination to repress on dissent. Although last year’s constitutional changes potentially allow Mr Putin to extend his reign for 20 years until 2036, his grades have approached record lows among Russians unhappy with stagnant real incomes and management by the Kremlin of the coronavirus emergency.
During this time Mr. Navalny used his large online following to bypass an almost total media blackout and mobilize his supporters against Mr Putin. A video he posted the day after his arrest detailing a lavish $ 1.3 billion Black Sea palace allegedly built for Mr. Putin has racked up more than 100 million views on YouTube.
Mr Putin said the palace did not belong to him or any member of his family.
Mr Navalny also faces up to 10 years in prison on separate charges of embezzling funds from his foundation, which he denies.