Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days Monday, following a hastily-convened court hearing held in a police station outside Moscow the day after he returned home.
Navalny and fellow Kremlin critics denounced the hearing as a politically-motivated sham, while Western governments called on Russia to immediately release the 44-year-old, and a number of EU countries called for further sanctions.
Navalny, the most high profile and outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was jailed for violating the parole terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement that he – and the European Court of Human Rights – says was politically motivated.
He will face another hearing on January 29 to determine whether his suspended sentence of three and a half years should be converted to a jail term.
Navalny was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport yesterday, after spending five months in Germany recovering from a suspected assassination attempt.
His aides said they were denied access to him for nearly 15 hours before he reappeared in the makeshift courtroom in Khimki, while his lawyer said he was notified of the proceedings only a minute before they began.
In a video tweeted out by a spokesperson Monday, Navalny said he did not understand why the hearing was taking place in a police station.
“I’ve seen a lot of mockeries of justice, but it appears that the old man in the bunker is so afraid that he demonstrably ripped the penal code apart,” he said, in an apparent reference to Putin.
“This is lawlessness of the highest order, I can’t call it anything less.”
In another clip, he called on the judge to allow journalists gathered outside the courtroom to be allowed in to cover proceedings. Only journalists from state-run and pro-government outlets were allowed inside, according to his spokesperson.
“I advocate that this process is as transparent as possible, so that all media have the opportunity to observe this amazing absurdity that is happening here,” Navalny said.
Navalny is accused of missing an appointment with probation officers at the end of December. But at the time he was in Berlin, recovering from being poisoned with a toxic nerve agent in an attack he says was ordered by Putin.
Alexander Artemyev, Russia and Eurasia media manager for Amnesty International, told VICE World News that the proceedings amounted to “a purely political prosecution.”
“The very fact that the court arrives at the police station to try Alexei Navalny is a demonstration of how authorities are afraid of him and the fact that he’s back in Russia.”
Amnesty considers Navalny a prisoner of conscience, and along with a string of Western governments, from the U.S. to the EU, has called for the opposition leader’s immediate release.
Despite having narrowly survived a poisoning, and facing the threat of jail if he returned, Navalny insisted in a string of recent public statements he never considered not returning to Russia. He was detained by police at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport Sunday night for violating the terms of his probation.
His flight had been diverted to Sheremetyevo from its intended destination at another Moscow airport, Vnukovo, just minutes into its descent. Dozens of his supporters awaiting his arrival at Vnukovo were arrested.
Hundreds of supporters braved sub-zero temperatures outside the police station in Khimki Monday, demanding the politician be released.
Late December, the Russian Investigative Committee also levelled new charges against Navalny, accusing him of embezzling 356 million roubles (about £3.5 million) from his Anti-Corruption Foundation. Observers such as Amnesty believe those charges, which could carry a sentence of 10 years in jail, are trumped up.
On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her voice to the chorus of Western politicians calling for Navalny’s immediate release, while a British government minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said his government was “very worried” about his safety.
Government ministers from a number of EU countries, including Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic called for talks on further EU sanctions against Russia in response to its treatment of Navalny.
In the U.S., Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo tweeted that he was “deeply troubled” by Navlny’s detention and called for his "immediate and unconditional release".
"Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor commit violence against or wrongfully detain political opponents," Pompeo, appointed by Donald Trump, tweeted.