Alexei Navalny: Russian opposition leader put on trial in police station

18 January 2021, 12:50 | Updated: 18 January 2021, 14:44

Alexei Navalny was arrested on his return to Russia
Alexei Navalny was arrested on his return to Russia. Picture: @navalny/Twitter

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Russian authorities have put Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic Alexei Navalny on trial in a police station, in a move he has described as "lawlessness of the highest grade".

Opposition party leader Mr Navalny was arrested on Sunday evening as he arrived in Moscow after recovering from being poisoned with a nerve agent.

His allies said on Monday he was being held at a police station outside Moscow, and has been refused access to his lawyers.

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A court hearing into whether he should remain in custody started on Monday at the station itself, his lawyers said, adding they were only notified minutes before.

"It is impossible what is happening over here," Mr Navalny said in video from the improvised court room, posted on his page in the messaging app Telegram.

"It is lawlessness of the highest degree."

The 44-year-old was detained at passport control at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport after flying in from Berlin, where he was treated following the poisoning in August that he blames on the Kremlin.

His arrest has drawn criticism and calls for his release from Western nations.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US President-elect Joe Biden's pick for national security adviser Jake Sullivan have been among those to speak out.

A statement from Mr Raab said: "It is appalling that Alexey Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by Russian authorities. He must be immediately released.

“Rather than persecuting Mr Navalny Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil."

Mr Sullivan tweeted: "Mr Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable."

Outgoing US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the US "strongly condemns" the arrest, which he called "the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities".

German foreign minister Heiko Maas called the arrest "completely incomprehensible".

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the reaction from Western officials was an attempt "to divert attention from the crisis of the Western model of development".

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He added that Russian law enforcement agencies had explained Mr Navalny's arrest.

Russia's prisons service said he had violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction.

Mr Navalny fell into a coma while on board a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20, and was transferred to a Berlin hospital two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.