Russian opponent Alexei Navalny has been found guilty of fraud and is facing severe punishment

The prosecution last week demanded that Alexei Navalny’s two-and-a-half-year sentence be increased to 13 years in prison.

The charismatic anti-corruption activist and former lawyer, 45, has been on trial in an advanced court behind the walls of his sentencing colony, 100 km east of Moscow, since mid-February.

Arriving at the trial on Tuesday, he was seen wearing the defendant’s uniform, his face pale, and between two laughs and a discussion with his lawyers, listening to the verdict statement in his pocket.

Judge Margarita Cottova, surprisingly, found him guilty at the beginning of the verdict reading, which lasted several hours until sentencing was announced.

“Navalny has committed a fraud, which is the theft of property from others by an organized group,” Ms. Kottova said in a quick, mechanical voice.

“Navalny showed contempt in court, insulted a judge,” he added a few minutes later.

At the end of the verdict, Alexei Navalny, at the request of the prosecution, may be transferred to the so-called “strict regime” prison not far from Moscow, and the detention conditions will be more severe.

About 100 journalists watched the video broadcast of the trial in a press room set up in the penal colony.

Amid the wave of intimidation against the Kremlin’s critical voices, none of the opponent’s supporters appeared, except for his two lawyers.

Unrestrained repression

In the case heard on Tuesday, investigators accused Alexei Navalny of embezzling millions of rubles in donations to his anti-corruption organizations and of “contempt of court” during a previous trial.

He denounced the allegations as fabricated and ordered the Kremlin to keep him in jail as long as possible.

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Alexeï Navalny, an activist known for his fierce investigations into corruption and the lifestyle of the elite in Russia, has been the victim of unrestrained repression from power for more than two years.

In August 2020, he became seriously ill in Siberia, suffering from poisoning by a neuroscientist who had personally funded the Russian presidency. The Kremlin denies this, but Russian authorities have never investigated the assassination attempt.

When he returned to Russia in January 2021 and recovered five months later, he was arrested and sentenced in 2014 to two-and-a-half years in prison in a “fraud” case involving the French company Yves Rocher.

In June 2021, his organizations, which had been campaigning across Russia for years, were designated “extremists” and banned on the spot, with many activists deported to avoid prosecution. Others have been arrested and face severe imprisonment.

This relentless repression has banned the last media and NGOs critical of the Kremlin, and has provoked an outcry in the West and sanctions against Moscow.

No conflict in Ukraine

Despite his imprisonment, Alexei Navalny continues to send messages criticizing Vladimir Putin’s power. After the invasion of Ukraine, he spoke out strongly against the fighting.

Despite the dangers, he continued to call for protests against the conflict, and to crack down on any criticism of the Russian military, the authorities have further strengthened their legal arsenal in the face of the threat of harsh imprisonment.

After all, the special NGO OVD-Info reports that more than 15,000 people have been arrested in Russia in almost a month for protesting against the attack.

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At the same time, the government has tightened its grip on disseminating information about the conflict, blocking access to dozens of local and foreign media outlets in Russia.

On Monday, Russian justice banned popular American social networking sites Instagram and Facebook, accusing them of being “extremists” like Navalny. These are already blocked in Russia, such as Twitter and Dictok.

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