On Thursday, Alexei Navalny’s ally Ivan Zhdanov revealed that Russian prosecutors have requested a 20-year prison sentence for the imprisoned opposition leader on extremism charges.
According to Zhdanov, the trial against Navalny, which has been held behind closed doors in the prison where the politician is serving another lengthy sentence, is scheduled to conclude with a verdict on Aug. 4. If the court finds Navalny guilty, it will be his fifth criminal conviction, all of which have been widely seen as a deliberate strategy by the Kremlin to silence its ardent opponent.
In his closing statement released Thursday by his team, Navalny bashed Russian authorities as being governed by “bargaining, power, bribery, deception, treachery … and not law.” Navalny said: “Anyone in Russia knows that a person who seeks justice in a court of law is completely vulnerable. The case of that person is hopeless.”
Navalny, 47, is President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe who exposed official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests. He was arrested in January 2021 upon returning to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.
The authorities sentenced him to 2 1/2 years in prison for parole violations and then to another nine years on charges of fraud and contempt of court.
The politician is currently serving his sentence in a maximum-security prison east of Moscow. He has spent months in a tiny one-person cell, also called a “punishment cell,” for purported disciplinary violations such as an alleged failure to properly button his prison clothes, properly introduce himself to a guard or to wash his face at a specified time.
Navalny’s allies have accused prison authorities of failing to provide him with proper medical assistance and voiced concern about his health.
The new charges relate to the activities of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and statements by his top associates. His allies said the charges retroactively criminalize all the foundation’s activities since its creation in 2011.
Navalny has rejected all the charges against him as politically motivated and has accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life.
One of his associates — Daniel Kholodny — was relocated from a different prison to face trial alongside him. The prosecution has asked to sentence Kholodny to 10 years in prison.
The trial against the two began a month ago and went along swiftly by Russian standards, where people often spend months, if not years, awaiting for their verdict. It was unusually shielded from public attention and Navalny’s lawyers haven’t offered any comments on the proceedings.
Navalny, in his sardonic social media posts, occasionally offered a glimpse of what was going on with his case. In one such post, the politician revealed that a song by a popular Russian rapper praising him was listed as evidence in the case files, and claimed that he made the judge and bailiffs laugh out loud as the song was read out during a court hearing. In another, he said that the case files linked him to US mogul Warren Buffet.
Another insight into the trial came from three other prominent imprisoned dissidents: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Ilya Yashin and Alexei Gorinov — they all have revealed in recent weeks that they testified in the trial in Navalny’s favor.
In social media statements from behind bars, the three described Navalny as in good spirits and cheerful. Kara-Murza said the trial was “Kafkaesque.” Gorinov said he exchanged jokes with Navalny about similar treatment they both face while in prison. Yashin recalled how Navalny himself was asking him questions during Yashin’s testimony at the hearing, challenging the accusations levelled against him.
In his closing statement, Navalny once again described the trial against him as unjust and referred to the recent short-lived armed rebellion by the fighters of Russia’s private military company Wagner, after which their chief and the leader of the mutiny, Yevgeny Prigozhin, walked free, even though a number of Russian soldiers were killed by his troops.
“Those who were declared traitors to their Motherland and betrayers, in the morning killed several Russian army officers as the entire Russia watched in astonishment, and by lunch agreed on something with someone and went home,” Navalny said.
“Thus, law and justice in Russia were once again put in their place. And that place is not prestigious. One sure can’t find them in court,” the politician said.