Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny told a court that “millions of people want the truth – and sooner or later they’ll get it” as he lost an appeal against what he has described as a politically motivated prison sentence.
The Russian opposition leader, an anti-corruption campaigner and President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, was jailed earlier in February for allegedly violating parole charges.
Mr Navalny, 44, was arrested on 17 January as he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin – an allegation denied by Russian authorities.
His sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he has has rejected as fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful.
Mr Navalny had asked Moscow City Court to overturn the sentence and set him free.
On Saturday morning, the court rejected his appeal – despite an order by the European rights court to free him – but did shorten his original jail term by six weeks.
The original sentence was 3.5 years but, with the amount of time he has already spent under house arrest, amounted to around two years and eight months.
Mr Navalny reportedly responded sarcastically to the ruling. “They’ve reduced the sentence by 1.5 months. Great!” he said, according to the Reuters news agency.
Speaking about why he was unable to report to the Moscow prison service in 2020, he reminded the court he had been recovering in Germany.
“I don’t want to show off a lot, but the whole world knew where I was,” Mr Navalny told the judge. “Once I’d recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home.”
Despite his imprisonment, he said he had no regrets about returning to Russia. “Our country is built on injustice,” he said. “But tens of millions of people want the truth. And sooner or later they’ll get it.”
Since Mr Navalny was detained early this year, there have been large anti-Kremlin protests across Russia calling for him to be released, and many of his supporters have been detained.
Diplomats from several European countries were expelled from the country for allegedly joining the demonstrations – a move that was criticised by the UK’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab.
Several Western countries have condemned the case and are discussing possible sanctions on Russia.
Earlier in February, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov described the reaction as “hysteria”.
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