Russia: an unprecedented wave of popular support after the conviction of Alexei Navalny

Press release
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Paris — FIDH strongly condemns the crackdown on demonstrations in support of Alexei Navalny, who has just been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for violating his judicial supervision while he was convalescing in Germany.

Over 1,400 people were arrested and dozens of others beaten by police during impromptu demonstrations following the announcement of the verdict.

"This ruling is yet another shameful illustration of the arbitrary and absurd nature of the Russian judicial system. Navalny was punished for surviving his poisoning and returning to Russia. Fortunately, his fate has generated unprecedented popular support and a wave of peaceful protests," said Ilya Nuzov, head of the FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

Alexei Navalny’s three-year prison sentence concerns the Yves Rocher case, whose verdict was handed down on 30 December 2014 against the logistics company of the Navalny brothers, who were wrongly accused of having swindled 26 million rubles (370,000 euros) from the cosmetics company by overbilling it for its services between 2008 and 2012, thanks to the managerial position that Alexei Navalny’s brother held at the Russian postal service.

It is likely that this case was fabricated to prevent the eminent opposition figure from running for office. Indeed, in the 2013 municipal elections, Navalny had won 27% of the votes in Moscow, greatly worrying the Kremlin. The three-year sentence (which will be reduced to 2 years and 8 months, counting time already served) that Navalny received was qualified as arbitrary and unfounded by the European Court of Human Rights.

The suspended sentence imposed on Navalny was accompanied by judicial supervision, which he regularly complied with until his poisoning and his departure for Germany. Navalny’s probation period, which was extended in 2017, expired on 30 December. The Federal Sentence Enforcement Service now accuses him of failing to comply with judicial supervision while in Germany. This pretext is totally absurd as well as illegal. Memorial, a member organisation of the FIDH, considers Navalny to be a political prisoner.

"The detention on an illegal and baseless pretext of political opponent Aleksei Navalny, who has hidden from no one and publicly announced his return after an assassination attempt, is an illegal act of politically motivated reprisal. Memorial Human Rights Center considers Alexei Navalny to be a political prisoner and demands his immediate and unconditional release," said a spokesperson.
Since the opponent’s return to Russia on 17 January after months of recovery in Germany for a poisoning he accused Vladimir Putin and the Russian security services of being responsible for, non-violent demonstrations took place throughout the country on 23 and 31 January, which were harshly repressed, with over 7,000 arbitrary arrests to date.

"The slide of the Russian State apparatus towards an ultra-repressive policy on all fronts (police, legislative, judicial) and the use of methods increasingly reminiscent of the Stalinist era is now a sad reality that we must confront all together," says a group of organisations, including the FIDH, in a letter to European and international bodies.

After a reaction from the G7 which, on 26 January, condemned "the arrest for political reasons and the detention of Alexei Navalny" and demanded his "immediate and unconditional release," it is France’s turn to call on Germany to abandon the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia. "We have always said that we have the greatest doubts about this project in this context," said Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune. Is France in favor of abandoning the project? We have already said so, indeed," he replied.

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