Russia jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny for about 2 years and 8 months, ignoring Western calls to free him as President Vladimir Putin seeks to crush a resurgence in protests against his rule.
A Moscow court backed demands by penal authorities and prosecutors that Navalny, 44, serve time in prison instead of the suspended sentence he received for a 2014 fraud conviction, for alleged violations of his probation. The term of 3 1/2 years was reduced by the period of about 10 months that Navalny spent under house arrest for the sentence.
“The main point of this trial isn’t how it turns out for me — putting me in jail isn’t hard,” Navalny told the court earlier Tuesday from the glass defendant’s cage. “The main reason this is happening is to intimidate a huge number of people.”
Tens of thousands have joined protests nationwide since Navalny was detained in mid-January as he returned to Russia from Germany, where he recovered from a near-fatal nerve-agent attack that he and Western governments blamed on Putin’s security service. The Kremlin denies responsibility.
Navalny’s imprisonment looks set to escalate the confrontation between the authorities and opposition protesters that has already resulted in more than 9,000 detentions at rallies in dozens of cities in the last two weekends. The U.S. and the European Union have called on Russia to release Navalny and condemned the police crackdowns.
The hearing took place under heavy security with riot police positioned around the court as Navalny’s supporters gathered outside. Police detained at least 358 people, according to the OVD-Info monitoring group.
While the Kremlin’s move to jail Putin’s most prominent critic aims to put a stop to his political activities, Navalny’s backers say he’ll become a powerful symbol of resistance behind bars. A major test will come when Russia holds parliamentary elections in September.
The opposition leader received the suspended sentence in a fraud trial involving the Russian branch of French cosmetics company Yves Rocher that also led to a 3 1/2 year jail term for his younger brother, Oleg. Both men denied wrongdoing, and the European Court of Human Rights has called the case politically motivated.
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