In a move called “pure cowardice” by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Moscow has jailed prominent Russian presidential critic and opposition politician Alexei Navalny for three and a half years.
Mr. Navalny returned to Russia just a month ago after being treated for what is suspected to be an attempt on his life by Russian intelligence services using Novichok nerve agent in August last year.
Across Russia, news of the sentence was treated with disdain with many thousands coming out in support of Mr. Navalny.
In the Russian capital Moscow, images now being broadcast on global media show large numbers of well armed police arresting and beating protestors.
It is understood almost 1000 have already been taken away by authorities.
Mr. Navalny had already been convicted of embezzlement and had received a suspended sentence, but according to reports, when told of his custodial sentence shrugged and called the Russian President Vladimir Putin a “poisoner”, before blaming him for his attempted murder.
He was ordered to spend the remainder of his suspended sentence behind bars for failing to regularly report to authorities from his house arrest in Russia, even though, as Mr. Navalny claimed, the Russian government knew he had gone to Germany to recover from being poisoned before returning to Russia.
In response to the sentencing of Mr. Navalny, the ruling Council of Europe has called the sentence a move that has “defied all credibility” with Dunja Mijatovic, the Council’s Human Rights Commissioner saying “(W)ith this decision, the Russian authorities not only further exacerbate human rights violations as already established by the European Court of Human Rights, they also send a signal undermining the protection of the rights of all Russian citizens.”
Back in Britain, Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Dominic Raab added his voice to the international protests, calling the sentence “perverse.”
The new U.S. Administration of President Joe Biden responded through Secretary of State Antony Blinken who called for Mr Navalny’s release, saying Russia should be held responsible for “failing to uphold the rights of its citizens”.
Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson meanwhile retorted that Western nations should focus on their own issues instead of what was going on in Russia. “You should not interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state,” she is is reported as saying on Russian state television.