A judge in Moscow ruled today that Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, be detained for 30 days pending a court hearing regarding his alleged breach of parole. If found guilty, he could face three-and-a-half years in prison.
Authorities detained Navalny, an outspoken Putin critic, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, where he arrived after a five-month recuperation in Germany following his near-lethal poisoning by a powerful nerve agent last August. Navalny’s flight was supposed to land at another airport, Vnukovo, but was diverted to Sheremetyevo in an apparent attempt by the authorities to prevent his supporters from greeting him on arrival.
Navalny’s treatment has been a travesty of justice. Held overnight at Khimky police station on the outskirts of Moscow, he had no access to his lawyers for 15 hours, despite his and their repeated requests. The next day, instead of taking him to court for a hearing, authorities brought the judge to the police station and informed Navalny’s lawyers of the hearing only a few minutes before it began.
Navalny is accused of non-compliance with the terms of his parole in connection with the sentence he received in December 2014, in a politically motivated fraud case against him and his brother, Oleg. This despite the fact that in October 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Navalny’s conviction in this case was “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable,” and that the government had violated his right to a fair trial. Not only did Navalny’s parole period expire last year, but he also supposedly breached his parole by not attending meetings with parole officers while he was being treated in Germany for the poisoning. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service alleges it could not establish his whereabouts, even though his transfer to Germany for medical treatment had been supported by the Kremlin, and made international headlines. “This is the highest degree of lawlessness,” Navalny said about his rushed hearing at the police station. Amnesty International designated him a “prisoner of conscience.”
Instead of investigating Navalny’s credible allegations that Federal Security Service officers poisoned him with Novichok nerve agent in Siberia last year, Russian authorities cynically jailed him as soon as he set foot in the country. His wrongful and cruel arrest can only be seen as the Kremlin’s latest attempt to silence a prominent political opponent ahead of parliamentary elections in September.