A Russian court on Tuesday found jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny guilty of additional charges and extended his sentence to nine years in a higher security prison as Moscow sought to eliminate the rest of the dissent.
The sentence was made on the 27th day of what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in pro-Western Ukraine, with thousands killed and about 10 million homeless.
Following the decision, the most vocal domestic critic of President Vladimir Putin, who has been behind bars for about a year, said the Russian leader feared the truth.
“Putin is afraid of the truth, I always say this. Fighting censorship, conveying the truth to the Russian people has always been our priority,” the 45 -year -old opposition politician said in a post on Instagram after the sentence.
With his characteristic sense of humor, Navalny took an extension of his jail time on new charges of embezzlement and contempt of court calmly, joking that “his space flight was extended – my ship was stuck in a time loop.”
He also urged the Russian people to oppose “the criminals of this war”.
He is on trial in his prison colony in the town of Pokrov outside Moscow.
“Navalny committed fraud – the theft of property by an organized group,” said judge Margarita Kotova, according to an AFP reporter present at the trial.
The judge also found Navalny guilty of a less serious charge of contempt of court.
Navalny will serve his new sentence in a “strict regime” prison colony, which will put him in a tougher situation.
His lawyers, Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev, were briefly detained by police outside the prison following the decision but were later released.
Navalny’s defense team said that the new sentence replaces the sentence he is currently serving, meaning Navalny will not be released for another eight years, instead of one and a half years.
‘People are scared’
Last year the opposition leader was sentenced to two and a half years for violating parole on long -standing fraud charges while recovering from a poison attack with nerve agent Novichok whom he blamed on the Kremlin.
Navalny will also have to pay a fine of 1.2 million rubles ($ 11,500) and after him he will have to comply with various restrictions on his movements and activities for another 1.5 years.
He appeared for Tuesday’s trial in court while wearing his black prison uniform, with reporters watching via a video link.
He listened intently as judge Kotova read out the verdict, sometimes smiling.
Navalny has denied the charges against him, saying it was punishment for challenging the 69 -year -old Putin.
Investigators accuse Navalny of stealing for personal use donations worth several million dollars given to political organizations.
Prosecutors last week called for Navalny’s sentence to be extended to 13 years as well as his transfer to the regime’s strict prison colony.
His wife Yulia Navalnaya said she was proud of her husband.
“The number 9 means nothing,” he wrote on Instagram. “I love you, the person I love in the world, and I haven’t stopped being proud of you over the years.”
Russia witnessed unprecedented crackdowns on opposition and dissenting voices, and AFP saw several Navalny supporters outside its prison colony on Tuesday.
“No one. Everyone is locked up in their apartments. They’re scared,” Leopold Banionis supporters told reporters at the prison colony, calling Navalny a “hero.”
‘Predictable but surprising’
“This sentence is predictable but very shocking,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“The world cannot ignore this punishment and its importance in the midst of the horrific human rights violations we have seen as a result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”
Navalny is Russia’s main opposition leader and his team regularly publishes investigations into the wealth of Russia’s elite that have garnered millions of views on YouTube.
Navalny’s poisoning in 2020 with Novichok, a Soviet -designed military -grade nerve agent, and his subsequent detention from rehabilitation in Germany last year, sparked widespread condemnation abroad, as well as sanctions from Western capitals.
The Kremlin denies any involvement.
After his arrest, Navalny’s political organizations across the country were declared “extremist” and shut down, while key aides have fled Russia.
Russia has also increased pressure on independent media and NGOs, declaring many as “foreign agents”, while others have stopped operating for fear of prosecution.
More media shutdowns followed after Russia passed a new law introducing up to 15 years in prison for “fake news” about Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.
In an effort to continue to control the information available to its domestic audience, Russia this month blocked access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and a Moscow court banned Facebook and Instagram as “extremist” on Monday.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)