Russian opposition leader Navalny gets three and a half years in jail

·4-min read

A Moscow court has sentenced Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to three and a half years in prison for violating probation terms over a 2014 fraud case involving French cosmetics company Yves Rocher.

Navalny's 10 months served under house arrest means he faces a further two years and eight months in jail.

“No matter how much [Putin] portrays himself a great geopolitician, his main resentment against me now is that he will go down in history as a poisoner," Navalny said in his closing statement, quoted by The Moscow Times

"There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise. Now we’ll have Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants,” referring to how an FSB operative was allegedly found to have hidden poison that was used on Navalny in his underwear.

“It's easy to lock me up," Navalny continued, "the main thing in this process is to intimidate a huge number of people, this is how it works. They are putting one person behind bars to scare millions.

“I really hope that this process will be perceived as...a sign of weakness. You can't put hundreds and thousands in jail – and I hope people will begin to realise that. Once they do – and this moment will come – you won't be able to jail everyone.”

Anti-corruption campaigner Navalny is charged with violating a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement because he failed to check-in with Russia's prison service while in Germany.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2017 ruled that Navalny's 2014 conviction was "arbitrary and unreasonable".

Earlier in Tuesday's trial session, Navalny poked fun at questions by the Penal Service when asked why he did not submit documents when he was in a hospital in Germany, recovering from what appeared to have been a poisoning.

Navalny's answer: "Because I was in a coma."

As part of his suspended sentence, Navalny was expected to show up for checks with Russia's prison service (FSIN) twice a month until December 30, 2020.

During the trial, large areas around the Moscow court house were cordoned off, and police arrested over 300 demonstrators.

That followed a day of massive protests with people asking for Navalny's release.

On Sunday, crowds filled the streets of Moscow, chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin and demanding freedom for Navalny. Over 5,400 protesters were detained by authorities, according to a human rights group.

One of those taken into custody for several hours was Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who was ordered Monday to pay a fine of about 250 euros for participating in an unauthorised rally.

Three things to know about the case

Yves Rocher

In 2012, Navalny and his brother Oleg were accused of overcharging Yves Rocher Vostok, a subsidiary of the French cosmetics company, for services provided by their transport company Glavpodpiska.

Prior to the sentencing Yves Rocher admitted that it had suffered "no damage".

But a Russian court in December 2014 nonetheless handed the brothers sentences of three years and six months apiece. While Navalny's sentence was suspended, Oleg served his time behind bars.

Navalny and his allies believe the case was a ploy by the authorities to put pressure on himself and his family for his political activities.

No show

As part of his suspended sentence, Navalny was expected to show up for checks with Russia's prison service (FSIN) twice a month up until December 30, 2020.

But the prison service accused Navalny, who spent five months recovering in Germany from an August poisoning attack until returning to Russia last month, of skipping out on those appointments.

Russia's best known domestic critic may now have to serve the sentence behind bars partially or in full.

Navalny accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering the country's security agency Federal Security Service (FSB) to carry out the attack on him with the Novichok nerve agent, a claim the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

'Arbitrary, unreasonable'

In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the Navalny brothers had been deprived of their right to a fair trial, denouncing the Yves Rocher ruling as "arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable".

The following year the brothers filed a complaint with a court in Vannes, not far from Yves Rocher's headquarters in France, seeking "real and fair justice".

Yves Rocher has defended itself, saying its Russian subsidiary "acted in accordance with the practices and procedures of all international and independent companies and the more general principle of business ethics".

After the company was pressed on the case again following Navalny's arrest last month, it described itself as a "completely apolitical enterprise" adding that it would not "comment on the Russian situation".