The Kremlin critic appealed a ruling that turned a suspended sentence on embezzlement charges into real jail time.
A Moscow appeal court on Saturday upheld a prison sentence imposed on chief Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny after he returned to Russia from Germany last month.
Judge Dmitry Balashov rejected Navalny’s appeal against the February 2 ruling, which turned a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges into real jail time.
The judge decided to count six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, so he will now be imprisoned for just more than two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.
The ruling came even as the country faced a top European rights court’s order to immediately free the Kremlin’s most prominent foe. The Russian government has rebuffed the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) demand to free Navalny immediately, describing its ruling on Tuesday as unlawful and “inadmissible” meddling in Russia’s affairs.
Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner who has emerged as President Vladimir Putin’s most well-known opponent, was arrested in January when he returned to Russia after months in Germany recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.
He was detained for violating parole conditions of the 2014 suspended sentence and it was then turned into a custodial sentence.
Navalny and his supporters say the rulings and several other cases against him are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.
He was due in court again later on Saturday in another trial where he is accused of defamation for calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” after he appeared in a pro-Kremlin video. Navalny has rejected the slander charges and described them as part of official efforts to disparage him.
Prosecutors have called for Navalny to be fined the equivalent of $13,000 in that case. They also want his 2014 sentence turned into real jail time because the alleged defamation took place while he was serving the suspended term.
Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment have fuelled a huge wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.
Russia has rejected Western criticism of Navalny’s arrest and the crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the ECHR ordered the Russian government to release Navalny, citing “the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life”. The Strasbourg-based court noted Navalny has contested Russian authorities’ argument that they had taken sufficient measures to safeguard his life and wellbeing in custody following the nerve agent attack.
In the past, Moscow has abided by the ECHR’s rulings awarding compensation to Russian citizens who have contested verdicts in Russian courts, but it never faced a demand by the European court to set a convict free.
In a sign of its long-held annoyance with the Strasbourg court’s verdicts, Russia last year adopted a constitutional amendment declaring the priority of national legislation over international law. Russian authorities might now use that provision to reject the ECHR’s ruling.