A Moscow appeal hearing has rejected calls to release Alexei Navalny from jail, as investigators charged Navalny’s top aides in a series of inquiries meant to disrupt the protest movement that has arisen in support of the Kremlin critic.
Navalny will remain in jail until a parole hearing next week where he could be sent to a penal colony for as long as three and a half years. He was arrested upon returning to Russia this month following a suspected FSB poisoning attempt that left him fighting for his life.
The Kremlin appears poised to give the opposition leader a long prison sentence, despite protests in his support and a wave of international condemnation against his arrest. Joe Biden raised the case during his first telephone call as US president with Vladimir Putin, and other leaders have also spoken out about the case.
Russian investigators also continued targeting Navalny’s aides before further protests scheduled for this Sunday. On Thursday Leonid Volkov, a Navalny adviser, was charged with putting underage Russians in danger after recording a video calling for young Russians to come to last week’s protests.
Volkov, who is in Latvia, said the charges were false and meant to divert attention from the protests against Putin. “Have you gone absolutely crazy, you idiots?” he tweeted at Russia’s Investigative Committee after it announced the charges.
Young people make up a growing part of Navalny’s support because of the opposition leader’s use of social media to share the findings of his investigations into Putin’s allies. A recent video about a £1bn Black Sea palace allegedly built for Putin has more than 98.5m views on YouTube.
Navalny’s brother Oleg, his lawyer Lyubov Sobol and a number of other top aides were swept up in raids last evening and are being held on charges that last week’s protests violated coronavirus restrictions on public events. The charges carry a maximum sentence of three years. Oleg previously served a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence that Navalny described at the time as a “hostage” situation.
Navalny took part in the appeal hearing by video link from Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina jail owing to a mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine following his arrival.
He appeared surprised as he found out that his brother and others had been arrested for last week’s protests. “But why did they arrest Oleg?” he said. He called his arrest “demonstrative lawlessness”.
“Right now you have the power,” he told a judge during the hearing. “You can put one guard on one side of me, one on the other and keep me in handcuffs. But that situation is not going to continue for ever.”