In what has been described as a politically motivated ruling, the Simonovsky District Court has sentenced prominent opposition activist and Putin critic, Aleksei Navalny, to two years and eight months behind bars – in clear contravention to the ruling passed down by the European Court of Human Rights, which found the case arbitrary and unreasonable.
Navalny’s position as one of Russia’s most vocal pro-democracy activists has remained a constant since his founding of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FKB), conducting investigations and publishing numerous reports documenting corruption amongst the Russian elite.
The result of his work for the FKB and calls for the advancement of Russian democracy, Navalny’s imprisonment signifies the Kremlin’s desperation to silence the voices of its opposition.
Leaders in North America and Europe have called for his immediate release, with several condemning the partisan nature of the ruling and calling it “a bitter blow” to Russia’s justice system.
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister said the move was:
“pure cowardice and fails to meet the most basic standards of justice”
This sentiment was echoed by Antony Blinken, U.S secretary of state who said:
“We reiterate our call for his immediate and unconditional release as well as the release of all those wrongfully detained for exercising their rights.”
Emmanuel Macron, French President said that the ruling was “unacceptable” and that:
“Political disagreements are not a crime no matter the circumstances. We are calling for his immediate release. Respect for human rights and democratic freedoms is not subject to any negotiations.”
Since the immediate arrest of Navalny, following his return on 17 January 2021, mass protests have taken place throughout Russia, with thousands taking to the streets of Moscow to call for his immediate release.
Such protests, however, have been met by a violent police response. At least 1,400 people were detained on 2 February 2021, with riot police filmed beating demonstrators with batons. Natalya Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, raised concerns with regard to the fate of protestors, stating:
“With so many protesters detained in unknown locations, we are looking at the prospect of mass enforced disappearance”
This treatment of Navalny and the crackdown on subsequent protests once again highlights Russian authorities’ capacity to infringe on the human rights of their citizens. The Kremlin must be held responsible for the suppression of dissidents and the strong words of western leaders must equate to actions of a similar nature.