4 February 2021
For the first article in this series, see here.
At Aleksei Navalny’s trial on Tuesday 2 February 2021, the suspended sentence the 44-year-old opposition activist had been given in the Yves Rocher case was replaced with time in prison, with a sentence of three years and six months (reduced to two years and eight months because of the ten months he had spent under house arrest in connection with this case). This followed two weeks after Navalny had arrived in Moscow on board a flight from Berlin (on 17 February) and was immediately arrested. That day 50 of his supporters were also arrested whilst waiting for him at Vnukovo airport.
Navalny was accused of evading parole officers more than 50 times, both before and after his hospitalisation in Berlin. His lawyers have ten days to file an appeal. Navalny has asserted that the case is fabricated. In a short speech addressed to the court, Navalny described how he had already been cleared of charges in this case by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and had even been paid compensation, this trial being an attempt to frighten millions of people and was a show of weakness rather than of strength. He further said that Putin would go down in history with a nickname, along with Aleksander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise, as ‘Vladimir the Underpants Poisoner.’ The trial, Navalny said, was the horrifying result of a political system that operates on tyranny and lawlessness, but that Russia has strength in the many people who do not hide away and are not scared.
The nationwide protests that took place on the 23 January after the exposé video had urged people to protest saw (in spite of attempts to stifle calls to rally on social media, deter the general public and especially younger students, a key demographic of the opposition movement) tens of thousands of protestors on the streets in around 150 cities and over 3,700 arrests across the country. The 31 January was no different, though the police response was notably harsher. These protests were met by a brutal police response around the country, including the use of tear gas and flash grenades. Protests on 2 February, the evening after Navalny’s trial, saw allegations of torture in police stations, including assault and suffocation with plastic bags.
In a press-conference on Wednesday 3 February, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed the unsanctioned protests had been illegal and justified the role of security forces in maintaining law and order against ‘provocateurs’ in spite of the ‘discomfort’ that it had brought to the ‘life of the city.’ Moreover he argued, in answering one reporter’s question, that in both Russia and Belarus, the security services have been doing their duty fighting provocateurs and unsanctioned protests. He claimed the situation in Belarus (which has rocked Lukashenko’s legitimacy since his sixth re-election in 2020) has many parallels with that in Russia at present.
Among the international figures who have condemned the injustice of Navaln’s imprisonment and called for his immediate release are the spokesperson for the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.