It’s bad enough that Putin’s government, perhaps on the orders of Putin himself, tried to kill dissident Alexei Navalny by poisoning him. But now, after Navalny was detained on January 17 after a brave return to Russia, he’s been handed another 2.5-year jail sentence for violating his probation (he was convicted in 2014 of trumped-up charges of embezzlement). Apparently he’ll spend that time in a “penal colony.”
But the kicker is that during the five months he spent in Berlin, much of it recovering from the poison, he apparently didn’t report his whereabouts to the parole officers.
Navalny was detained two weeks ago upon his return to Moscow from Berlin, accused of failing to meet his parole terms under a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement — a case he has dismissed as politically motivated.
Navalny was handed a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence in the 2014 case along with five years of probation. The court on Tuesday ruled that he violated the terms of his probation and order his suspended sentence to be replaced with a prison term. The judge took into account the 11 months Navalny spent under house arrest as part of the case.
. . . In court, Navalny demanded to know how he could have better informed authorities of his whereabouts while comatose.
“Can you explain to me how else I was supposed to fulfill the terms of my probation and notify where I am?” he said from his glass enclosure in the courtroom.
A prison service representative responded by asking why he had not provided documents to explain the serious reasons that prevented him from showing up for inspections.
“Coma?” Navalny shot back. “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. 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?” he said.
The Russians certainly knew where Navalny was; the whole world’s media reported on it and Navalny’s lawyers informed the Russian government.
Of course this sentence, and the ludicrous reasons for it, will further inflame Navalny’s supporters and Putin’s detractors, who have been taking to the streets by the thousands during the last few days.
Putin is between a rock and a hard place on this one. If Navalny stays in jail, the protests will continue. Putin will be forced to put them down, and that will simply produce more protests. If Navalny is set free and put back on probation, he’ll be free to continue calling out the corruption and perfidy of the Putin autocracy. They could exile him, but I doubt he’d take that offer. Navalny, to his great credit, remains defiant:
In a separate outburst, Navalny described Putin as a “little thieving man in his bunker” who “doesn’t want me to set foot on the ground in Russia.”
“The reason for this is the hatred and fear of one person who is hiding in the bunker.
I’ve offended him so deeply by the fact that I’ve survived,” Navalny charged.
When a prosecutor tried to object, Navalny snapped back: “I don’t need your objections.”
“He can pretend he is this big politician, the world leader, but now my main offense to him is that he will go down in history as Putin the Poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise, and there will be Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants,” Navalny added.
“He is not engaging in geopolitics, he holds meetings on how to smear underwear with chemical weapons.”
Re the last sentence: Navalny got another Russian operative to admit that they poisoned him, Navalny, by smearing the deadly poison in his underpants.
We are certainly seeing the rare spectacle of a very brave man who cares more about his cause than his life. And what I hope we’re also seeing is the beginning of the end for Putin.