MOSCOW (AP) – A Moscow court on Saturday rejected opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s appeal against his prison sentence, despite an order from a high European human rights court to free the Kremlin’s most prominent enemy.
In a speech before the ruling, Navalny urged the Russians to confront the Kremlin in a fiery speech that mixed references to the Bible and Harry Potter.
Earlier this month, a trial court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in jail for violating the terms of his probation while recovering in Germany from a neurotoxin poisoning that he blames on Moscow. The Russian authorities reject the accusation.
Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption activist and the staunchest critic of President Vladimir Putin, appealed the conviction and called for his release. The Moscow court judge reduced the sentence to just over two and a half years on Saturday, claiming that the month and a half he spent under house arrest in early 2015 should be deducted from the sentence.
Navalny’s arrest and incarceration have sparked a huge wave of protests across the country. The authorities responded with heavy repression and detained some 11,000 people, many of whom received fines or sentences of 7 to 15 days in jail.
In his court remarks, Navalny turned to the Bible, the Harry Potter book saga and the animated comedy “Rick and Morty” to encourage Russians to resist pressure from the authorities and defy the Kremlin to build a country. more just and prosperous.
“The task of the government is to scare them and then convince them that they are alone,” he said. “Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel isolated,” he added, referring to Putin.
“To live is to risk everything (…) Otherwise, you are just an inert piece of molecules assembled at random, adrift wherever the universe takes you,” he continued.
Navalny also addressed the judge and the prosecutor, noting that they could have a much better life in a new Russia.
“Just imagine how wonderful life would be without constant lies,” he said. “Imagine how great it would be to work as a judge when no one can call you and give you instructions on the verdicts to be rendered.”
The opponent insisted that he was unable to appear before the authorities as required by the terms of his parole because he was convalescing in Germany after his poisoning, and stressed that he returned to the country as soon as his health allowed.
“I was not hiding,” he said.
Russia has rejected Western criticism of the opposition’s arrest and subsequent crackdown as meddling in its internal affairs.
In a ruling Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to release Navalny because of “the nature and extent of the risk to the applicant’s life.” The Strasbourg-based court further noted that Navalny has disputed the Russian argument that sufficient measures were taken to protect his life and well-being after arrest after the neurotoxin attack.
The Kremlin rejected the court’s request, calling the ruling illegal and “inadmissible” meddling in the country’s affairs.
Later on Saturday, Navalny returned to court for another trial on charges of defamation of a World War II veteran. The prosecution asked the judge to impose a fine of 950,000 rubles (about $ 13,000).