Tuesday 2 February 2021 6:06 pm

Putin critic Alexei Navalny sentenced to three-and-half years in penal colony

Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in a prison colony despite widespread protests in support of the Kremlin critic.

Navalny, who is one of President Putin’s fiercest opponents, was arrested last month on his return to Russia from Berlin, where he was recovering from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.

The opposition politician has accused Putin of ordering the poisoning — an accusation the Kremlin denies — and has said he was being persecuted as a result of the president’s hatred and fear of him.

Navalny was today sentenced on charges that he violated the terms of his probation while recovering from the assassination attempt in Germany.

The prior prison sentence relates to a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has dismissed as trumped up.

But the judge ruled that a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence should be converted into a real jail term, with 10 months deducted for the time he spent under house arrest.

Ten months has been decided for the time he spent under house arrest, meaning Navalny will serve two years and eight months at a corrective labour colony.

It comes after a fiery courtroom hearing during which Navalny launched an attack on Putin over what he described as absurd and politically-motivated charges.

“Someone did not want me to take a single step on my country’s territory as a free man. And we know who and we know why — the hatred and fear of one man, living in a bunker, whom I offended by surviving when he tried to have me killed,” Navalny told the court.

He branded Putin the “underpants poisoner”, adding that his “only method is killing people”.

Russian police detained more than 200 protestors who had gathered in support of Navalny outside the Moscow court. 

The sentencing is likely to put further strain on ties between Russia and the west, which is likely to consider imposing sanctions on Moscow over the case.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said: “The United States is deeply concerned by Russia’s actions toward Aleksey Navalny.

“We reiterate our call for his immediate and unconditional release as well as the release of all those wrongfully detained for exercising their rights.”