Russian opposition leader Navalny faces 20 more years behind bars
August 4, 2023 10:25 AM
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny faces trial again on Friday to hear whether he has been found guilty of a series of extremism charges that could see him spend 20 more years behind bars.
He is already serving a nine-year sentence in a maximum-security prison for "embezzlement", a charge that his supporters say was trumped up in retaliation for challenging President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny said he expected the court to hand him a lengthy, "Stalinist" prison sentence of about 18 years, and called on his supporters to resist Putin's rule in a statement Thursday.
"Please consider and realise that by jailing hundreds, Putin is trying to intimidate millions," he said.
Navalny has a huge following on social media, where he has posted videos exposing alleged corruption among Russia's elite and mobilised massive anti-government protests.
His court hearing on Friday will be held behind closed doors at the IK-6 penal colony, a maximum-security prison some 250 kilometres (155 miles) east of Moscow, where the 47-year-old has been serving his sentence.
Prosecutors allege that Navalny created an organisation that undermined public security by carrying out "extremist activities".
His Anti-Corruption Foundation, that investigates graft among Russian officials, was banned for extremism in 2021.
His former chief of staff Leonid Volkov and other associates have also been charged with organising or participating in an "extremist community".
Most of his close allies have fled the country.
Since launching full-scale hostilities against Ukraine last year, Russia has further cracked down on dissenting voices, pushing most of the country's beleaguered opposition movement abroad.
- Punishment cell -
Navalny's last days before the verdict have been spent in a punishment cell where, his spokesperson said, he has been regularly sent over minor infringements of prison rules.
In all, he has spent almost 200 days in the cell, according to his team, which has repeatedly accused prison authorities of harassing him.
He was arrested in 2021 after arriving in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on the Kremlin.
Navalny said prison officials forced him to share a cell with a sickly inmate and subjected him and other prisoners to "torture by Putin", making them listen to the Russian president's speeches.
He has also complained of health problems and major weight loss since being jailed in a strict regime penal colony.
Prosecutors have requested Navalny serve his additional sentence in an even more restrictive special prison.
In April, Navalny said he could be separately judged over terrorism charges and face life in prison.
His campaign offices around the country were declared extremist organisations in 2021 by authorities, putting employees, volunteers and supporters at greater risk of prosecution.
Over the summer two heads of regional offices, Lilia Chanysheva and Vadim Ostanin, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half and nine years respectively on extremism charges.
Thousands of Russians have been detained for protesting against Moscow's offensive in Ukraine, and some of the highest-profile activists including Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin are now behind bars.