Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny tells Russian court to free him

In this photo taken from a video published by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on his instagram account, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walks down stairs in a hospital in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. Navalny, who is being treated in a German hospital for suspected poisoning by a nerve agent, says on social media that he is recovering verbal and physical abilities despite despairing at first.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny told a judge to set him free on Saturday as he appealed against what he said was a politically-motivated decision to jail him for nearly three years.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was jailed earlier this month for parole violations he said were trumped up. The West has condemned the case and is discussing possible sanctions on Russia.

As proceedings got underway, a relaxed-looking Navalny said he had heard about a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) telling Russia to free him, a request that Moscow on Wednesday dismissed as unlawful.

“It would be better if you released me,” Navalny, wearing green trousers and a patterned shirt, told the presiding judge from a glass courtroom cage.

“I heard there had been such a ruling (from the ECHR).”

The opposition politician, who returned to Russia last month from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve toxin in Siberia, said he was not guilty of parole violations as a previous court had found.

He had been unable to report to the Moscow prison service last year because he had been convalescing in Germany at the time, he said.

“I don’t want to show off a lot, but the whole world knew where I was,” Navalny told the judge. “Once I’d recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home.”

Navalny said he had no regrets about returning to Russia, that his belief in God helped sustain him, and that “strength was in truth.”

“Our country is built on injustice,” said Navalny. “But tens of millions of people want the truth. And sooner or later they’ll get it.”

Navalny is due later on Saturday to appear in court again for what is expected to be the culmination of a separate slander trial against him.

In the slander case, Navalny stands accused of defaming a World War Two veteran who took part in a promotional video backing constitutional reforms last year that let Putin run for two more terms in the Kremlin after 2024 if he wants.

Navalny described the people in the video as traitors and corrupt lackeys. But he has said his comments were not specifically directed against the veteran, and that the authorities are using the charge to smear his reputation.

State prosecutors have asked the court to fine Navalny 950,000 roubles ($12,800) for slander.

Navalny’s arrest and jailing sparked nationwide street protests in Russia, but his allies say they have now paused serious demonstrations until the spring.

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