Russia's Navalny faces decades behind bars as judge rejects appeal

AFP

Russia's most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, lost his appeal on Tuesday against a new 19-year prison term that extends his total sentence to more than 30 years.

After a hearing that was closed to the media, despite protests from Navalny and his lawyers, he stood in his black prison uniform and listened to judge Viktor Rogov rattle through the list of his convictions before telling him that his sentence was unchanged.

Navalny, 47, now faces a transfer to a "special regime" prison colony, the harshest grade in Russia's penal system, with the prospect of staying there until he is in his mid-70s.

He rejects all the charges against him, which have ranged over the years from fraud and contempt of court to an array of "extremist" activities, as attempts to silence his criticism of President Vladimir Putin.

Daniel Kholodny, a TV technician who worked for Navalny, was sentenced to eight years in jail in August as part of the same trial. His appeal too was rejected on Tuesday.

"Alexei, see you!" Kholodny shouted after the judge finished speaking. Navalny waved his hand in response.

"For all of us - their colleagues and friends - this is constant pain," Navalny aide Leonid Volkov posted on X, formerly Twitter. "And a constant challenge: every day to do everything we can to destroy the maniac in the Kremlin."

The Kremlin has tried to portray Navalny as politically irrelevant, and Putin makes a point of never speaking his name. Moscow has cast him as an extremist and, without providing evidence, as a puppet of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Navalny is by far the best known figure in Russia's splintered opposition, with supporters casting him as a Nelson Mandela-style figure who will one day be freed from jail to lead the country.

His political movement has been outlawed and its key figures have been jailed or fled abroad as part of a crackdown on dissent that has intensified since Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine last year.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, another outspoken Kremlin critic who was jailed for 25 years in April on charges of treason and lying about the war, was last week moved to a maximum-security penal colony in Siberia, according to his lawyer.

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