Navalny reacts to 9-year sentence calling on Russian supporters to act against Putin regime ‘war criminals’

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After top Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to nine more years in prison Tuesday, he shared a message appealing to supporters to take action against President Vladimir Putin’s regime. 

“I am very grateful to everyone for their support. And, guys, I want to say: the best support for me and other political prisoners is not sympathy and kind words, but actions,” Navalny said in a message shared on his behalf on his official Twitter account. “Any activity against the deceitful and thievish Putin’s regime. Any opposition to these war criminals.” 

“In 2013, after hearing my first verdict, I wrote this and now I will repeat it: don’t be idle. This toad sitting on an oil pipe will not overthrow itself,” he added. “I hug and love everyone!” 

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The 45-year-old noted that the broadcast by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service of his court session from inside a prison colony in Pokrov, located in the Vladimir region outside of Moscow, conveniently cut out during his closing remarks. Navalny used it as an example of the dangers of censorship. 

“By the way, please note that they kept jamming my ‘last word’ by interrupting the broadcast,” he wrote. “That’s understandable: words have power, Putin is afraid of the truth, I have always said that.”

“Fighting against censorship and bringing the truth to the people of Russia has remained our priority. The Kremlin smashes the media, and in response we create new ones,” Navalny tweeted. 

Navalny said the money awarded to him by the European Parliament through the Sakharov Prize will serve as the first contribution to his new Anti-Corruption Foundation, which he aims to turn into a global international organization after it was outlawed in Russia. To combat censorship, he said his team created a “Popular Politics” YouTube channel which has nearly 1 million subscribers Tuesday. 

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

It also comes after a separated Moscow court on Monday upheld bans on Facebook and Instagram in the country as Russian forces continue their invasion of Ukraine, and more than 15,000 people have been arrested across Russia in connection to anti-war protests in several cities since Feb. 24. 

Navalny was already serving a two-and-a-half year sentence at a prison camp east of Moscow for allege parole violations. He had pleaded not guilty to new charges of fraud and contempt of court related to accusations that he had been embezzling about 356 million roubles — $3.42 million — from donations to his foundation for personal use and insulted a judge during a previous trial. 

Reuters reported Navalny’s existing sentence will be incorporate in the nine-year sentence handed down by Judge Margarita Kotova Tuesday. Kotova reportedly said Navalny would remain under restrictions for another 20 months after his eventual release nearly a decade from now. 

After the sentence was announced, Navalny’s wife, Yulia, shared an old photograph of their family taken during her husband’s presidential campaign, writing: “The number 9 means nothing at all. I love you, my dearest person in the world, and I have not ceased to be proud of you for many, many years.” 

While speaking to reporters outside the prison complex after the court hearing, Navalny’s lawyers, Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev, were detained by Russian law enforcement and video shared online purportedly showed them being escorted to a prison van and driven away. 

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    Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, centre, gestures via a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, standing next to his layer and speaking with Penitentiary Service officers during a court session, in Pokrov, Vladimir region, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.  Navalny has been convicted of fraud and contempt of court and sentenced to nine years in a maximum security prison. A judge also ruled Tuesday that Navalny would have to pay a fine of 1.2 million rubles (about $11,500).   ((AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko))

Both attorneys were reportedly released later without any charges. 

Navalny’s associates have long accused the Kremlin of mounting criminal allegations against him as party of a ploy to keep him behind bars indefinitely. Navalny’s closest ally and longtime strategist Leonid Volkov tweeted Tuesday from abroad that the plan will fail. “Putin plans and has been planning a lot of things: to make Russia one of the top-five world economies, to take over Kyiv in 96 hours, to kill Navalny with Novichok. His plans have always failed. So will these nine years,” Volkov said.

Navalny’s 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 labeled an extremist organization, The Associated Press reported. 

Navalny fell ill while on a flight toward Serbia in 2020 and was diagnosed with being poisoned by a chemical nerve agent Novichok, although Russian officials vehemently denied his accusations that they had any role. He was transferred for treatment to Germany, where he recovered for five months.

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He was arrested upon returning to Russia in January 2021, triggering the biggest protests seen in the country in recent years. The next month, a Moscow court ordered him to prison for violating terms of his parole on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that the European Court of Human Rights deemed to be “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

Authorities then unleashed the sweeping crackdown on his organization, associates and supporters. 

Last month, Russian officials added him and a number of his colleagues to a state registry that labeled them extremists and terrorists. Several criminal cases have been launched against Navalny individually. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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