Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny lost a court appeal against his prison sentence while offering scathing criticism of the Kremlin in a speech that urged fellow citizens to stand up to the government.
Navalny, a high-profile Kremlin critic who has long rebuked Russian President Vladimir Putin, was handed a defeat Saturday against what he described as a politically motivated decision to jail him for nearly three years for allegedly violating probation.
Earlier this month, a lower court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison after he returned to the country from Germany, where he’d been recuperating from a nerve agent he blamed on Kremlin officials.
The latest ruling Saturday prompted reaction among Navalny’s supporters.
“The court decision to keep Alexei in jail says only one thing. There is no law in Russia right now,” tweeted Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, as reported by Reuters.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics also tweeted in response: “I condemn the decision of yet another Russian court to keep behind bars the leader of Russian opposition Alexei@navalny, this is contrary to@ECHR_CEDH rulings, if #Russia does not comply with its international obligations,@coe must impose sanctions against this country.”
Navalny, the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist, asked to be released in a fiery Saturday speech after his appeal was rejected. His frustration at his continued jailing included several pop culture references, including the Harry Potter book series and the TV show, Rick and Morty.
“The government’s task is to scare you and then persuade you that you are alone. Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off,” Navalny said, comparing Putin to the evil nemesis in Harry Potter. “This is the most important thing: all our system is trying to tell people like me that we’re on our own. One of my favorite philosopher, Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter, said something great about this: ‘Don’t feel lonely. that’s what Voldemort wants!”
“I don’t want to show off a lot, but the whole world knew where I was,” Navalny told the Moscow judge, adding that he believes there is “strength in truth.”
Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, petitioned the court to release her client immediately on Saturday, bringing a demand by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Although this appeal failed, his attorneys managed to reduce his sentence by a few months in the Moscow City Court Saturday. Navalny is now expected to serve just over two-and-a-half years in prison.
He stands accused of defaming a World War II veteran who took part in a pro-Putin promotional video.
Navalny argued he was unable to report back to the Moscow prison service last year because he was recovering from the alleged poisoning attack in Germany at the time.
“Our country is built on injustice. But tens of millions of people want the truth. And sooner or later they’ll get it,” Navalny added during his Saturday remarks.
Newsweek reached out to Russian delegation officials in Washington for additional remarks.