Moscow, May 17 – Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday opened an appeal against a nine-year prison sentence he was handed in March on charges he and his allies say are politically motivated.
After a brief start to the hearing on Tuesday morning, the court announced that it would resume the trial on May 24 following a request from Navalny to postpone.
His hearing comes as the Russian authorities seek to silence the last critics of the government and as Moscow continues its military campaign in neighboring Ukraine, leaving thousands dead and some 10 million displaced.
A vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Navalny saw his prison sentence extended to nine years at the end of March after being found guilty of embezzlement and contempt of court.
He is already serving two and a half years in a prison some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Moscow for violating parole on old fraud charges.
On Tuesday, Navalny took part in a hearing in a Moscow court via video link from behind bars in his penal colony to appeal the extension of his prison sentence.
Dressed in a black prisoner’s uniform, Navalny asked the judge to postpone the hearing for a week so he could have a family reunion before being transferred to another colony, an ISIS reporter reported. AFP.
“If you confirm the sentence, I will be transferred to a regime colony and transferred out of here. In this case, my visit will be canceled,” he said.
He also requested additional time to listen to the audio recording of his verdict.
If his new sentence comes into force, the 45-year-old opponent will be transferred to a strict regime penal colony, which will place him in much harsher conditions, including allowing fewer family visits.
The new sentence would replace the old one – which he handed down in February last year – meaning Navalny would remain behind bars for another eight years.
– Declared ‘extremist’ –
As part of the new charges, investigators accused Navalny of personally stealing several million dollars in donations that went to his political organizations.
Navalny rose to prominence as an anti-corruption blogger and, before his imprisonment, mobilized anti-government protests across Russia.
In 2018 he campaigned as a presidential candidate but was ultimately barred from standing in the election which saw Putin secure a fourth term in office.
In his absence, Navalny’s team continues to publish Russian elite wealth surveys that have garnered millions of views on YouTube.
In 2020, Navalny narrowly survived a poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-designed military-grade nerve agent. Despite Navalny’s accusations, the Kremlin has denied any involvement.
He was arrested on his return from treatment in Germany last year, prompting widespread condemnation abroad, as well as sanctions from Western capitals.
After his arrest, Navalny’s political organizations across the country were declared “extremist” and shut down.
Navalny’s key allies have since fled Russia and several are wanted by Russian authorities on criminal charges.
Russia has recently stepped up pressure on independent media and non-governmental organizations, declaring many “foreign agents”, while others have ceased operations for fear of prosecution.
To further control the information available to its domestic audience, authorities blocked access to popular social networks Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and filed a lawsuit against tech giant Meta, accusing it of spreading ” calls to kill” the Russians.