This Monday, the Moscow City Court will begin examining a new criminal case against dissident Alexei Navalny, who is accused of a number of crimes. The hearing is taking place in a penal colony in the Vladimir region, where he is already serving a nine-year sentence for fraud and contempt of court.
Navalny himself expects a prison sentence of up to 30 years on the basis of the new charges. His comrades also fear a harsh sentence: “We assume that the trial will be completed relatively quickly and Alexei will actually be sentenced to an unimaginable prison term of around 30 years,” Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Jarmysch told DW.
It is the first political charge against Navalny
“For the first time, Navalny is being tried on the basis of a political law, i.e. for political activities,” emphasizes his ally Leonid Volkov in the DW Novosti Show podcast. The peculiarity of the new case lies in its exclusively political character.
“The Kremlin used to say: ‘Look, he’s a scammer – he stole the whole forest, all the mail, all the donations. He’s just a thief.’ Therefore, they tried to turn these trials into show trials as much as possible. However, Navalny’s new case is purely political in nature. He is simply charged with all his political activities, which the Kremlin has retrospectively declared extremist since 2011,” says Volkov.
“We consider every possible verdict to be unlawful from the outset and the entire case to be completely fabricated,” emphasizes Jarmysch. “So of course we will do our best to let the whole world know about it.”
196 files and no journalists in the courtroom
According to Jarmysch, the Russian judiciary wants to conduct this trial as quietly as possible due to the “lack of evidence”. Initially, the preliminary hearing was postponed from May 31 to June 6. Then the Moscow City Court moved the preliminary hearings and the trial itself to the penal colony where the opposition figure is being held.
On June 5, Volkov told DW that the trial would take place entirely behind closed doors: “We will only hear the verdict. The Kremlin will do everything possible to ensure that no information leaks out.”
But after the preliminary hearing on June 6, the court decided to hold the first day of the trial on June 19 in open session. Accordingly, the press could have entered the courtroom. On June 16, a spokesman for the Moscow City Court clarified that none of the journalists would be allowed directly into the room where the trial was taking place. You could be in a special room and watch the session being broadcast. However, at the last trial against Navalny, the reception was regularly interrupted and simply switched off when the defendant had his last word.
The new case against Navalny includes 196 files. In all, the opposition figure is accused of violating seven articles of the Criminal Code. This includes the organization of an extremist community (we are talking about the anti-corruption foundation, which was classified as an “extremist organization” on June 9, 2021), public calls for extremism, the rehabilitation of National Socialism and the involvement of minors in life-threatening acts (meaning calls for rallies).
The Human Rights Court decides in favor of Navalny
On the day of the preliminary hearing in the new Navalny case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg announced its decision on a lawsuit that Navalny’s lawyers had filed in August 2020. It was about the refusal of the Russian authorities to investigate the poisoning of the activist that took place in the same year. The ECtHR sided with the plaintiff, citing a violation of the right to life article of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ordered Russia to pay Alexey Navalny €40,000 for moral damage. The 300,000 euros demanded by the plaintiff were rejected as excessive.
However, it is impossible to collect this money from the Russian authorities, because the Russian Federation has withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the ECtHR and does not recognize its decision. Nevertheless, the court decision means “that Alexei’s life was actually in danger and that the Russian Federation is responsible for it,” says Jarmysch. “From a pure truth-telling point of view, it is an important decision. Despite all the Russian courts’ refusals to examine these cases, it proves that our lawyers were right.”
Meanwhile, the representative of the Council of Europe told DW that the ECtHR could examine complaints from Russians relating to violations of the rights of Russian citizens that took place before mid-September 2022. Only then did the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights expire for Russia – six months after Moscow announced its withdrawal from the Council of Europe in March 2022.
Adapted from the Russian by Dmytro Hubenko