Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny denounced a “parody of justice” after a court was convened on Monday in a police station to rule on his detention, the day after an incredible arrest criticized in the West.
Charismatic anti-corruption activist and sworn enemy of the Kremlin, Navalny, 44, accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder with poison Novichok in August, which Russia denies. Having survived this suspected poisoning, he was treated for five months in Germany. Sunday, the opponent returned to Moscow and was arrested upon his arrival, the FSIN, the Russian prison service, accusing him of having violated judicial control measures by going for treatment abroad.
To everyone’s surprise, a court met at midday on Monday at the Khimki police station, on the outskirts of Moscow, where he is being held, to examine a “request for detention”, according to Vadim Kobzev, Advocate of the number 1 opponent of the Kremlin. “I saw a lot of parodies of justice (…) but there, it is the most total illegality”, reacted in the courtroom Mr. Navalny, visibly annoyed, according to a video posted on social networks . “Grandpa in his bunker is so afraid that we will tear up and throw the code of criminal procedure in the trash,” he added, referring to President Putin and the fact that a tribunal could sit in a police station.
Mr. Navalny was arrested on Sunday evening at Sheremetyevo airport. The prison service had warned Thursday that he would be arrested on his return for having violated the judicial review imposed on him within the framework of a five-year suspended prison sentence for embezzlement and which the opponent considers politically motivated. Since the end of December, he has also been targeted by a new investigation for fraud, because he is suspected of having spent 356 million rubles (3.9 million euros) in donations for his personal use.
His return was agitated, dozens of his supporters, who came to meet him at Vnukovo airport, having been arrested by riot forces. Then Mr. Navalny’s plane, accompanied by many journalists, was diverted at the last minute to Sheremetievo. His arrest and his separation from his wife Yulia, at passport control, took place under the lenses of many cameras.
By flying to Moscow, Alexeï Navalny had assured that he was not afraid of anything. “Are they going to arrest me?” It is not possible, I am innocent, ”he quipped. The NGO Amnesty International considered that he was now a “prisoner of conscience”, the victim of a “relentless campaign” by the authorities. The EU, France, Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom have called for his release, as has the future administration of US President-elect Joe Biden. The head of American diplomacy, Mike Pompeo, denounced an attempt to “silence Navalny”.
Europe invited to meddle in its “own problems”
Russian diplomacy spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told them via Facebook to “meddle in their own problems”. Its minister, Sergei Lavrov estimated that the West was attacking Russia to “divert attention from the deep crisis which undermines the model of liberal development”. According to him, the Navalny affair is “the responsibility of the police” and it is “to ensure respect for Russian law”.
The opponent suddenly fell into a coma in August, while returning from an election tour in Siberia. First hospitalized in Omsk, Russia, he was eventually evacuated to a Berlin hospital. Three European laboratories have since concluded that he was poisoned by a military nerve agent of the Novichok type, developed during the Soviet era, a finding confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Russia has, for its part, multiplied the versions – disease, poor lifestyle, provocation of Western secret services – and refuses to open a criminal investigation.
Widely ignored by Russian national media, Alexeï Navalny remains the main voice of the opposition thanks to a very large audience on social networks and his investigations into the corruption of the elites. Its notoriety, however, remains limited outside the large cities and only 20% of Russians approve of its action, according to a poll by the independent Levada center in September.