Jailed Navalny Faces Slander Trial as Criminal Challenges Mount

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny appeared in court Friday on charges of slander, days after a judge sentenced him to 2 years and 8 months in a penal colony over a separate fraud conviction.

The charges of slandering a veteran carry a maximum penalty of a fine and community service, according to Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobzev. He rejects the allegations.

Navalny is facing an array of criminal cases after returning in mid-January from Germany, where he was treated for a near-fatal nerve-agent attack that he and Western governments blamed on Russian intelligence services. His arrest provoked the biggest anti-Kremlin protests in years, with tens of thousands of people rallying in cities across the country.

President Vladimir Putin responded with a fierce crackdown. Authorities have detained more than 11,000 people since his return, according to the OVD-Info monitoring group. Russian social media has been filled with images of police beating protesters and overflowing detention centers, while many of Navalny’s aides have also been held and face criminal prosecution.

The harsh reaction prompted a break in the protests. A top ally of Navalny, Leonid Volkov, said Thursday the opposition won’t stage any more demonstrations until the spring in order to focus on preparations for nationwide parliamentary elections in September.

Navalny was charged with libel in June after investigators accused him of slandering a World War II veteran, Ignat Artemenko, by tweeting that he and others campaigning for a referendum that overrode constitutional term limits for Putin were “a national disgrace” and “sellouts.”

Navalny also faces potential embezzlement charges related to his Anti-Corruption Foundation that carry a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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