Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny could be transferred to a prison camp within days after losing an appeal on Saturday of his jailing, which has sparked mass protests and a spike in tensions with the West.
The ruling by a Moscow court removes the last legal obstacle to sending Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic to serve out the term, which the ruling reduced by a month and a half to about 2 1/2 years after crediting him for time served under house arrest. The decision upholds the conversion earlier this month of a 2014 suspended sentence to prison time for violating probation rules while recovering in Germany from a near-fatal nerve agent attack that he and Western governments blame on Russian security services. The Kremlin denies any role in the poisoning.
Navalny’s arrest in mid-January as he came back to Russia provoked the biggest unrest in years and condemnation by the European Union and the US, which are both considering new sanctions to punish Putin for his imprisonment. Authorities cracked down on the demonstrations last month, detaining more than 11,000 people and prosecuting key Navalny allies.
“I don’t regret that I returned — I did the right thing at a difficult time,” Navalny told the court before the ruling. In a speech that cited the Bible, Harry Potter and science fiction cartoon series Rick and Morty, he said, “The main thing I want to say is don’t be afraid.”
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on February 16 that Russia risked breaching the European Convention on Human Rights unless it releases Navalny immediately, a decision rejected by officials in Moscow.
Navalny is unlikely to be eligible for early release because he has been labeled an escape threat, the state-run Tass news service reported Friday, citing a member of Russia’s Public Oversight Committee. He received the status despite having flown back to Moscow last month facing almost certain arrest. He could be sent to one of several prisons in central Russia in the coming days. His defense team said it would
appeal Saturday’s ruling.
The opposition activist faces a fine of 950,000 rubles ($13,000) in a separate slander trial later in the day.
The 44-year-old, who has built a following of millions by releasing exposes on graft, is also under investigation over a fraud case related to his Anti-Corruption Foundation that could lead to a sentence of as much as 10 years.