MOSCOW (REUTERS) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny returned to court on Tuesday (Feb 16) for a trial on slander changes he calls politically motivated.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was jailed this month for almost three years for parole violations he said were trumped up. The West has condemned the case and is discussing possible sanctions on Russia.
In the slander case, Navalny stands accused of defaming a World War Two veteran who took part in a promotional video backing constitutional reforms last year that let Putin run for two more terms in the Kremlin after 2024 if he wants.
Navalny described the people in the video as traitors and corrupt lackeys. He accuses authorities of using the slander charges to smear his reputation.
Veterans of what Moscow calls the Great Patriotic War are revered by most Russians and criticism of them is regarded as socially unacceptable and insulting. State prosecutors were expected later on Tuesday to tell the court what punishment they are seeking for Navalny, state media reported.
Although the slander charge, if proven, is punishable by up to two years in jail, his lawyer has said that Navalny cannot face a custodial sentence in this instance because the alleged crime was committed before the law was changed to make it a jailable offence.
It remains unclear whether the judge in the case agrees with that analysis. Lesser punishments include a fine or community service.
Navalny’s arrest and jailing sparked nationwide street protests in Russia, but his allies say they have paused serious demonstrations until the spring.