Putin critic Alexei Navalny faces another 15 years in prison over fresh 'extremism' claims

31 May 2022, 22:10 | Updated: 1 June 2022, 00:56

Alexei Navalny could spend another 15 years in prison.
Alexei Navalny could spend another 15 years in prison. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has said he is facing new criminal accusations that could extend his current nine-year prison term by 15 years.

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Mr Navalny said that an investigator visited him in prison to say the authorities had opened a new investigation against him on charges of "creating an extremist group to fan hatred against officials and oligarchs" and trying to stage unsanctioned rallies.

He was first arrested in January 2021 after returning from Germany, where he had been recuperating from nerve-agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

He was handed a two-and-a-half-year sentence for a parole violation before being sentenced to nine years on fraud and contempt of court charges.

Arguably the most determined political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Navalny rejected the move as politically motivated, in a bid by the authorities to keep him behind bars for as long as possible.

However, he remained optimistic following the latest accusations, saying he could "thank Putin" for saving him from nuclear war by keeping him locked up.

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Mr Navalny tweeted: "Well, what do I know? Maybe Putin doesn't hate me, maybe he secretly adores me. That's why he wants me to be hidden in an underground bunker, guarded by reliable people, just like himself.

"How else can I explain the fact that not even eight days have passed since my 9-year high-security sentence came into force, and today the investigator showed up again and formally charged me with a new case.

"It turns out that I created an extremist group in order to incite hatred towards officials and oligarchs. And when they put me in jail, I dared to be disgruntled about it (silly me) and called for rallies.

"For that, they're supposed to add up to 15 more years to my sentence.

"See, that's another 15 years in a secure stable bunker where I will be sheltered from the surprises and hardships of this "freedom" of yours.

"Where it's such a mess that the streets are even walked on by ordinary people - not FSO and FSIN officers.

"My parents came here for a visit, and they live in a small military town. So, of course, we joked that when Putin does start a nuclear war, they will get one of the first missiles.

"And I'm having the time of my life - who's going to bomb a prison in the middle of a swamp?

"So when the concrete starts melting out there, I will simply watch a particularly beautiful sunset from the prison yard. Thank Putin for that."

Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link from the IK-2 corrective penal colony in Pokrov during a court hearing
Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link from the IK-2 corrective penal colony in Pokrov during a court hearing. Picture: Alamy

The new sentence follows a year-long Kremlin crackdown on Mr Navalny's supporters, which include other opposition activists and independent journalists in which authorities appear eager to stifle all dissent.

His close associates have faced criminal charges and left the country, and his group's political infrastructure - an anti-corruption foundation and a nationwide network of regional offices - has been destroyed after being labelled an extremist organisation.

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