A Moscow court on Tuesday ordered Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to prison for more than 2 1/2 years on charges that he violated the terms of his probation — while he was in a coma from nerve-agent poisoning he says was perpetrated by the Russian Security Service.
Navalny, 44, was detained two weeks ago after he returned to Moscow from Berlin. In court, a judge ruled Navalny violated his term of five years of probation, ordered a former 3.5-year suspended sentence to be replaced with a prison term, then took off 11 months Navalny already spent under house arrest.
Navalny, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who spent five months recovering from the poisoning, mocked the ruling.
“Can you explain to me how else I was supposed to fulfill the terms of my probation and notify where I am?” he said, according to a CNN report.
A court official then asked him why he had not provided documents to explain what prevented him from showing up to comply with his probation rules.
“Coma?” Navalny shot back. “Why are you sitting here and telling the court you didn’t know where I was? I fell into a coma, then I was in the ICU, then in rehabilitation. I contacted my lawyer to send you a notice. You had the address, my contact details. What else could I have done to inform you?” he said.
“The president of our country said live on air he let me go to get treatment in Germany and you didn’t know that, too?”
Navalny also laid into Putin, calling him a “little thieving man in his bunker” who “doesn’t want me to set foot on the ground in Russia.”
“The reason for this is the hatred and fear of one person who is hiding in the bunker. I’ve offended him so deeply by the fact that I’ve survived,” Navalny said. “He can pretend he is this big politician, the world leader, but now my main offense to him is that he will go down in history as Putin the Poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise, and there will be Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants.”
“He is not engaging in geopolitics, he holds meetings on how to smear underwear with chemical weapons,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken blasted the ruling. “The United States is deeply concerned by Russian authorities’ decision to sentence opposition figure (Alexei) Navalny to two years and eight months imprisonment, replacing his suspended sentence with jail time,” he said. “We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.”
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Russia’s 11 time zones to demand the release of Navalny.
Police detained more than 5,000 people, The Associated Press reported. Russian authorities warned that demonstrators face lengthy jail terms, but thousands still showed up on Sunday. In an effort to shut them down, authorities in Moscow deployed unprecedented security measures in the city center, closing subway stations near the Kremlin, cutting bus traffic and ordering restaurants and stores to close.