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Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Faces Retrial, This Time in Jail: NPR

In this image provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks via video link, as he stands next to his lawyers during a hearing in Pokrov, in the region of Vladimir, about 100 km east of Moscow, Russia, in January. .

Denis Kaminev/AP


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Denis Kaminev/AP


In this image provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks via video link, as he stands next to his lawyers during a hearing in Pokrov, in the region of Vladimir, about 100 km east of Moscow, Russia, in January. .

Denis Kaminev/AP

MOSCOW — A new trial against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny opened on Tuesday at the penal colony where he faces another lengthy prison sentence, another step in a year-long multi-pronged crackdown on the critic the most ardent of the Kremlin, its allies and other dissenting voices.

Navalny, the longtime enemy of President Vladimir Putin, is charged with fraud and contempt of court. His allies have denounced the case as an effort by the Kremlin to keep the anti-corruption crusader in jail as long as possible.

Authorities moved the trial to the penal colony a few hours from Moscow, where Navalny is serving a sentence for a parole violation. The move has been criticized for effectively limiting access to the proceedings for media and supporters.

Navalny, 45, appeared in the makeshift courtroom on Tuesday wearing a prison uniform.

“It’s just that these people, who ordered this trial, are really scared,” he told the hearing. “(Afraid) of what I say during this trial, of people seeing that the case is obviously fabricated.”

Navalny can receive up to 15 years in prison if convicted, his allies said, in addition to the sentence he was sentenced to serve last year.

The unusual trial began as world leaders are concerned about a new round of tensions between Russia and the West fueled by fears that Russia is planning to invade its ex-Soviet neighbour.

Asked about Navalny at a press conference on Tuesday after a series of talks with Putin in the Kremlin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated that “his conviction is incompatible with the principles of the rule of law”.

Scholz was vice-chancellor in 2020 when Navalny was brought to Germany for treatment for nerve agent poisoning the dissident blamed on the Kremlin, charges Russian officials have denied.

Navalny was arrested in January 2021 upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering. Shortly after the arrest, a court sentenced him to 2½ years in prison for a parole violation stemming from a 2014 suspended sentence in a fraud case that Navalny said was politically motivated.

After Navalny’s imprisonment, authorities unleashed a broad crackdown on his associates and supporters. Its closest allies have left Russia after facing multiple criminal charges, and its Anti-Corruption Foundation and a network of nearly 40 regional offices have been banned as extremists – a designation that exposes the people involved in the lawsuits.

Earlier this month, Russian officials added Navalny and a number of his associates to a national register of extremists and terrorists.

Several criminal cases have been launched against Navalny individually, leading his associates to suggest the Kremlin intends to keep him behind bars for as long as possible.

“Navalny is in jail as a politician. He spoke the truth, ran for president, and for that Putin tried to kill him and then sent him to jail,” a close ally wrote. of Navalny, Ivan Zhdanov, on Facebook this month. “And there’s no doubt that Putin will come up with more and more political stuff.”

The prosecution in the ongoing trial accuses Navalny of embezzling money he and his foundation have raised over the years and insulting a judge during his trial last year for allegedly slandering a former World War II fighter. Navalny dismissed the allegations as false.

“I understand that this is an attempt to intimidate: ‘If you say something, if you don’t just shut up, don’t nod obediently, don’t be afraid of us judges and prosecutors…then we’ll approve one criminal case after another,” Navalny said in a court address. “Well, go ahead. By All Means rubber stamp. I won’t be silent anyway.”

Members of Navalny’s defense team complained that they were not allowed to bring cellphones or laptops containing files into the makeshift courtroom at the IK-2 penal colony. The prison is located in the Vladimir region, 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Moscow.

Media access to the hearing, which was officially declared open, was also severely restricted on Tuesday.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, was allowed to attend the trial on Tuesday. Photos published by Russian independent news site Mediazona showed the couple hugging and laughing during a hearing.

In an emotional Instagram post on Monday, Yulia Navalnaya said she had an extended family visit scheduled for Wednesday – one of four Navalny is allowed each year. She said she feared her husband’s trial would interfere with the visit.

“They did it on purpose. You wanted a family visit? You better face some wacky court in jail,” Navalnaya wrote.

The court, however, adjourned Tuesday evening until February 21.