Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in a Moscow court on Friday, 5 February, for the second time this week, this time on a charge of defaming a second world war veteran.
The politician, who was ordered earlier this week to serve two years and eight months in prison, slammed the new hearing as a ‘disgusting PR trial’ intended by the Kremlin to disparage him.
Last June, Russia’s investigative committee launched a probe into Navalny on charges of defamation, after the politician slammed people featured in a video promoting the constitutional reform that allowed an extension to President Vladimir Putin’s rule as corrupt stooges, people without conscience and traitors.
The authorities maintained that Navalny’s comments denigrate the honour and dignity of a world war II veteran featured in the video. If convicted, Navalny faces a fine or community service.
“This trial was conceived as some kind of PR trial because the Kremlin needs headlines such as Navalny slandered a veteran, the politician said in the courtroom Friday.
Last month the 44-year-old Navalny, an anti-corruption investigator and Putin’s most prominent critic, was arrested upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities rejected the accusations.
Navalny’s jailing has prompted condemnation from the EU and several Western nations, with calls for sanctions on Russia growing in Europe.
Moscow has so far brushed off the foreign criticism of its handling of Navalny’s case as external interference, accusing the West of hysteria and double standards.
The Kremlin has also said recent protests over Navalny’s arrest which saw tens of thousands take to the streets in towns and cities across Russia were broken up by police because they were illegal.