On February 15, Russia’s most famous dissident, Alexei Navalny, resurfaced from his jail cell in Vladimir, Russia. Navalny has been serving a three-and-a-half-year prison term since February 2021 on charges of violation of parole. This charge—widely dismissed as fabricated—came in August 2020 when he was evacuated to Germany after being poisoned by Russia’s security service, the FSB.
Navalny is now on trial for two additional alleged crimes: embezzlement and contempt of court. Regarding the former, prosecutors claim that Navalny stole $4.7 million of funds donated to his political organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation. The second claim is that he insulted a judge during his previous trial. For these two alleged crimes, Navalny could receive 15 additional years in prison.
The trial is being held in a penal colony in Vladimir, a city a few hours away from Moscow by car. The trial is being criticized for its location, with many claiming that it is being held in the penal colony in order to limit media access and inhibit Navalny’s lawyers, banning them from bringing their laptops into the prison.
In response to this, Navalny argued that these measures are being taken because the Russian government is afraid: “It is just that these people, who ordered this trial, are really scared… Scared of what I say during this trial, of people seeing that the case is obviously fabricated.”
Four witnesses have testified against Navalny, claiming that he stole money they intended to donate to the Anti-Corruption Foundation. Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny’s longtime ally, is accusing the Russian government of coercing these individuals to testify. Two of the witnesses, Zhdanov claims, are being paid by the government to speak against Navalny while the other two are being threatened, one with a ten-year prison time and the other with a tax fraud investigation. Another witness who refused to testify against Navalny claims that prosecutors tried to threaten him into testifying and gave him a script to recite during the trial. Since his refusal, the individual has fled Russia out of fear of retaliation.
Critics claim that the timing of this trial coincides with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in order to distract the public from the ongoing trial.