More than 1,000 arrested as West lambasts Russia over jailing of Navalny

Moscow rejects EU and US ‘meddling’ as riot police arrest anti-Putin protesters

Russian security forces have arrested over 300 people outside a Moscow court where opposition leader Alexei Navalny was served a jail sentence of two years and eight months. Video: Reuters

 

Western powers have called on Russia to immediately release opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after he was jailed for breaching his parole terms while recovering abroad from a poisoning in Siberia that nearly killed him.

The verdict triggered marches in Moscow and the arrest of more than 1,000 protesters.

A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced the anti-corruption campaigner and fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin to a 3 1/2-year jail term, reduced to two years and eight months behind bars for time already spent under house arrest.

After the verdict, several hundred of Mr Navalny supporters marched in central Moscow. Videos by local media or shared on social media showed police in body armour hitting protesters with staves. More than 1,000 people were arrested across the country in the course of the day, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-info.

Mr Navalny (44) lambasted Mr Putin in court, accusing Russia’s leader of ordering his poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent last August and his conviction on charges that are widely seen as politically motivated.

Describing Mr Putin as a “poisoner” and “a thieving little man in a bunker”, Mr Navalny urged Russians not be cowed by his own fate, because “you can’t jail an entire country”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is due to visit Moscow this week, said the jailing of Mr Navalny “runs counter [to] Russia’s international commitments on rule of law and fundamental freedoms...I call for his immediate release.”

French president Emmanuel Macron said the “conviction of Alexei Navalny is unacceptable. Political disagreement is never a crime.”

German foreign minister Heiko Maas called the verdict “a bitter blow against fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in Russia...Alexei Navalny must be released immediately”.

Growing pressure

Germany is under growing pressure from the US and several other EU members, including France, to halt co-operation with Russia on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is nearing completion in the Baltic Sea.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken was “deeply concerned” by the verdict and urged Russia to “immediately and unconditionally release Mr Navalny as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks” during anti-Kremlin protests.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by urging western governments “not to meddle in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. I recommend they all attend to their own problems.” – Additional reporting Guardian