Alexei Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s leading critics, has been ordered to spend the next two years and eight months in jail.
A Russian court has ruled the opposition leader whose 30-day sentence after returning to Moscow triggered mass protests, had violated the terms of his parole while he was recuperating in Germany from nerve-agent poisoning.
The jail sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he has rejected as fabricated and that required him to report regularly to Russian police.
On Wednesday morning (Australian time), a Moscow court sentenced Mr Navalny to three years and six months in jail before taking 11 months off his sentence, which he had served under house arrest in 2014.
In 2013, Mr Navalny was found guilty of stealing 16 million roubles ($281,000) worth of timber from a state firm in Russia’s remote Kirov region, while advising the region’s governor in 2009.
He was due to spend five years in jail until a Russian court gave him a suspended sentence due to fears that his incarceration would trigger a repeat of the mass protests he spearheaded against Mr Putin in 2011 and 2012.
But hours after being handed the suspended sentence for fraud, he was arrested for breaking house arrest to join an opposition rally in Moscow.
Then in late 2020, while Mr Navalny was recovering from being poisoned, Russian authorities say he was supposed to report to police regularly because of the 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement.
The court on Wednesday ruled he had violated the terms of his parole despite being comatose in a Siberian hospital’s intensive care unit.
“Can you explain to me how else I was supposed to fulfill the terms of my probation and notify where I am?” Mr Navalny told the judge.
A prison service representative asked him why he failed to provide documents that explained why he could not show up for police inspections.
“Coma?” Mr Navalny responded.
“Why are you sitting here and telling the court you didn’t know where I was? I fell into a coma, then I was in the ICU, then in rehabilitation,” he continued.
“I contacted my lawyer to send you a notice. You had the address, my contact details. What else could I have done to inform you?
Mr Navalny’s lawyer said the opposition politician would appeal against the ruling.
Before flying back to his home in Russia in mid-January, he brushed off concerns that Moscow’s prison service would arrest him if he returned and proceeded to board the plane in Berlin with his wife Yulia.
Mr Navalny was arrested upon his return to Moscow. His allies called on their supporters to immediately protest against the ruling to keep him in custody for 30 days.
His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was among more than 4000 others who this week was arrested for taking part in unsanctioned rallies demanding his release.