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Russia’s Navalny defends himself against ‘charges of extremism’

Charges against a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin could extend his prison term by decades.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has appeared in a Russian court to defend himself on new extremism charges, where his sentence could be extended by several more years.

Monday’s court hearing was held at the IK-6 penal colony in Melekhvo, where Navalny is being held, about 235 kilometers (145 miles) east of Moscow.

He looked thin, had a haircut and was wearing a black prison uniform, according to Russian journalists who were allowed to cover the court proceedings.

In an attempt to contest the court’s charges, Navalny said: “Taking into account the current situation and the criminal law, you should withdraw.”

A critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin already serving an 11.5-year prison sentence on fraud and other charges, he says the charges are trumped up.

He said the new charge of “terrorism” issued against him in April was an “absurd” attempt to further silence him.

Members of Navalny’s party fear the new charges could land him in prison for up to 30 years and claim he was not informed of the specifics, as he was in solitary confinement where he was given only a mug and a book.

Court papers last month showed the new charges relate to six different articles of the criminal code, including inciting and financing extremist activity and creating an extremist organisation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian government was “not following this trial”.

Last week Navalny’s associate Liliya Chaniseva was also sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for “creating an extremist organization”, in a court ruling that Navalny’s supporters said was “politically motivated”.

But it is not yet clear what incidents these extremism allegations are related to.

According to Reuters, one relates to the “rehabilitation of Nazism” – a possible reference to Navalny’s declaration of support for Ukraine.

Ukraine and its Western allies dismissed the allegations as baseless.

In April, Russian investigators linked Navalny to the death of popular military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed in a bombing at a cafe in St. Petersburg. Navalny’s allies have denied any connection.

Navalny, a former lawyer, rose to prominence more than 10 years ago by indicting large-scale corruption in his country.

He returned to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he was treated for what appeared to be an attempted poisoning with a nerve agent in Siberia.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied attempts to assassinate him and often refuses to comment on the imprisonment of Navalny and his supporters.

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