Russian Navalny in court to face extremism charges

MELEKHOVO, Russia (Reuters) – Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in a Russian court on Monday to face new extremism charges that could extend his prison sentence by decades.

The hearing took place at the IK-6 penal colony in Melekhovo, about 235 km (145 miles) east of Moscow, where Navalny is already serving sentences totaling 11½ years.

His supporters accuse Russian authorities of trying to break him out of prison to silence his critics of President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin denies.

An entry in the court filing last month showed the new charges relate to six different articles of Russia’s criminal code, including incitement and financing of extremist activities and the establishment of an extremist organisation.

Russia has banned Navalny’s campaign organization as part of a crackdown on dissent that began long before the conflict in Ukraine and has intensified in the nearly 16 months since it began. Last week, one of his regional campaign leaders was jailed for 7½ years.

In a tweet posted to his account by his supporters last month, Navalny responded with typical irony to the new accusations.

“Well, Alexei, you’re in real trouble now… The Attorney General’s office officially provided me with 3,828 pages describing all the crimes I committed while I was already imprisoned.”

He said he was not allowed to read the documents to find out exactly what he was charged with because he was again in solitary confinement and only allowed a mug and a book.

Navalny, 46, won admiration from the disparate opposition for his voluntary return to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated for what Western lab tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

The Kremlin denied trying to kill him and said there was no evidence he was poisoned with such a toxin.

It was not immediately clear what specific actions or incidents the new charges referred to.

One is about “rehabilitating Nazism” – a possible reference to Navalny’s statements of support for Ukraine, whose government Russia accuses of embodying Nazi ideology. Ukraine and its Western allies reject this accusation as baseless.

In April, investigators officially linked Navalny supporters to the murder of Vladlen Tatarsky, a popular military blogger and supporter of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine who was killed by a bomb in St. Petersburg.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAC) said Ukrainian intelligence services staged the attack with the help of Navalny’s supporters.

It appeared to be a reference to the fact that a suspect arrested for the murder had once registered to participate in an anti-Kremlin voting program promoted by Navalny’s movement.

Navalny’s allies have denied any connection to the murder. Ukraine attributed it to “domestic terrorism”.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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