Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in a case extensively seen as an try and neutralise President Vladimir Putin’s most distinguished critic.

In a tense listening to in Moscow’s Simonovsky courtroom on Tuesday that intermittently descended into bouts of quarrelling between the authorized groups, the choose agreed with prosecutors who alleged that Mr Navalny had violated the phrases of a suspended sentence for fraud he acquired in 2014, by not instantly returning to Russia from Germany after recovering from a nerve agent poisoning final autumn.

The choose mentioned that the near a 12 months already served by Mr Navalny below home arrest could be deducted from the time to be served within the jail colony. 

Mr Navalny, 44, whose corruption investigations and protests towards Mr Putin’s regime have turn out to be the most important political risk to the Kremlin, had argued he was unable to attend necessary judicial conferences whereas in poor health as a result of he was incapacitated, and lambasted the courtroom as a software of political oppression.

“The primary objective of this trial is to scare an enormous variety of individuals. That’s the way it works. They jail one individual to scare off tens of millions,” Mr Navalny mentioned in a fierce speech to a room full of journalists and diplomats.

He claims the fees towards him are Mr Putin’s revenge for surviving the poisoning — which a number of western governments have blamed on the Kremlin — and exposing a hit squad that tracked him across the nation for years, then allegedly poisoned his underpants with the nerve agent novichok. The Kremlin denies involvement.

“Nonetheless a lot [Mr Putin] tries to painting himself as a geopolitician, an excellent world chief, he resents me as a result of he’ll go into historical past as a poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Sensible, and he’ll go into historical past as Vladimir the Underpants Poisoner,” he mentioned.

Mr Navalny’s jailing demonstrates the Kremlin’s rising resolve to clamp down on dissent, analysts say. Though constitutional adjustments final 12 months doubtlessly permit Mr Putin to increase his 20-year rule till 2036, his scores have approached file lows amongst Russians sad with stagnant actual incomes and Moscow’s dealing with of the coronavirus emergency.

As he and his legal professionals engaged in at instances aggressive and testy arguments with prosecutors, police outdoors the courtroom arrested 354 of Mr Navalny’s supporters, in accordance with OVD-Information, an NGO that tracks arrests.

“I actually hope individuals gained’t take this trial as an indication they have to be extra scared. The [guards] and the cage are an indication of weak spot. You may’t jail tens of millions of individuals,” Mr Navalny instructed the courtroom.

His arrest instantly after he flew again to Moscow final month sparked the most important protests in trendy Russian historical past. The demonstrations in additional than 120 cities nationwide tapped into fashionable anger about corruption, injustice and plunging residing requirements. Police arrested greater than 10,000 individuals over the previous two weekends and a few face fees for offences resembling blocking site visitors and protesting illegally.

Police detain a Navalny supporter outdoors Moscow’s Simonovsky courtroom through the listening to into whether or not the opposition chief violated the phrases of a 2014 suspended sentence © Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

The prosecution case centred on claims that Mr Navalny missed judicial conferences mandated below the suspended sentence whereas in Berlin recovering from the assault and will have returned to Russia as quickly as he was discharged from hospital.

“I used to be in a coma,” Mr Navalny mentioned in a raised voice when prosecutors accused him of “hiding” from them in Berlin. “On what grounds are you saying you didn’t know the place I used to be? You’re deceptive the courtroom,” he added.

Since he was detained final month, Mr Navalny has used his online following to bypass a near-total media blackout and mobilise his supporters towards Mr Putin. A video he launched the day after his arrest detailing a lavish $1.3bn palace on the Black Sea allegedly constructed for Mr Putin has racked up greater than 100m views on YouTube.

Mr Putin later mentioned the palace didn’t belong to him or any of his members of the family, however didn’t handle Mr Navalny’s claims that his billionaire buddies managed a useful possession scheme on his behalf. One in every of them, his childhood judo sparring associate Arkady Rotenberg, has mentioned he’s the palace’s proprietor and that it’s meant to be a luxurious house resort.

The Kremlin has used unprecedented pressure to interrupt up the latest protests, shutting massive sections of central Moscow and St Petersburg and paralysing the work of Mr Navalny’s basis, together with by arresting workers and opening authorized actions towards them.

Mr Navalny’s brother Oleg — who spent three-and-a-half years in jail on the identical fraud fees — and a number of other of his prime aides had been positioned below home arrest final week on fees of violating public coronavirus well being tips by calling for the protests.

EU overseas coverage chief Josep Borrell has vowed to name for Mr Navalny’s launch throughout his go to to Moscow on Thursday.

However the Kremlin — which claims Mr Navalny is a CIA stooge bent on bringing Russia to wreck — has proven little signal it will likely be swayed by worldwide criticism. 

Although the European Court docket of Human Rights threw out Mr Navalny’s “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable” conviction in 2017, final 12 months’s constitutional adjustments included a proviso permitting Russia to disregard worldwide rulings if it deemed them to contradict its personal legislation. Mr Putin additionally not too long ago ordered authorized officers to discover establishing a Russian human rights courtroom that would exchange the ECHR.

For Mr Navalny, his authorized travails might have solely simply begun. He additionally faces as much as 10 years in jail on separate fees of embezzling from his basis, which he denies. However in courtroom, he remained unbowed.

“When injustice and lawlessness are sporting your uniforms and passing themselves off because the legislation, each trustworthy individual’s responsibility is to withstand you and battle you with all the things they’ve received,” he instructed the courtroom.