Alexei Navalny: Putin critic accuses Kremlin of ‘highest level of lawlessness’ at first hearing | World News



Putin critic Alexei Navalny has accused the Russian government of the “highest level of lawlessness” at his first hearing since his arrest.

Mr Navalny was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday, after spending five months in Germany recovering from novichok poisoning.

The 44-year-old, who is one of Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critics, blames Moscow for the attack that nearly killed him, although the Kremlin denies any involvement.

He appeared at an ad-hoc hearing – held in a police station in Khimki, outside Moscow – on Monday afternoon.

In a video posted to Twitter by his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, Mr Navalny said: “I don’t understand what’s going on. A minute ago, I was brought from cell here to meet my lawyers.

“I came here and here is the Khimki court session taking place. Some strangers are filming me on camera… Why the court session is taking place in police station I cannot understand. Why was no one was informed?

“I have seen a lot of jokes about judicial system here… It’s not possible what is happening here. It’s the highest level of lawlessness. I cannot call it any other word.”

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Moment Navalny is detained after landing in Russia

Mr Navalny’s detention was widely expected because Russia’s prisons service said he had violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction.

But it has drawn widespread condemnation from leaders from Europe and the US.

Earlier, Dominic Raab joined those calling for Mr Navalny’s immediate release.

The UK foreign secretary said: “It is appalling that Alexei Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by Russian authorities. He must be immediately released.

“Rather than persecuting Mr Navalny, Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil.”

Law enforcement officers stand guard before the expected arrival of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a flight from the German capital Berlin at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia January 17, 2021
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Crowds of supporters waited to welcome Mr Navalny home

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Russian authorities should immediately release Mr Navalny and “ensure his safety”.

In a statement shared on Twitter, she added: “Detention of political opponents is against Russia’s international commitments.

“We will monitor the situation closely.”

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said Washington “strongly condemns” the decision to arrest Mr Navalny and called his detention “the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities.”

He added on Twitter that he was “deeply troubled” by the move.

“Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents,” he said.

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser also called on the Russian authorities to free him.

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‘They tried to kill me,’ says Kremlin critic

“Mr Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Jake Sullivan said in a tweet.

Moscow has dismissed the criticism.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Western countries’ expressions of outrage were designed to distract their citizens from their own domestic problems.

Meanwhile, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook: “Respect international law, do not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states and address problems in your own country.”

On leaving Berlin on Sunday, Mr Navalny said he didn’t think he would be arrested as he had “every right” to return to his home country.

The arrest raises tensions in Russia as it approaches national parliament elections this year, in which Mr Navalny’s organisation is expected to be active in trying to defeat pro-Kremlin candidates.

“This is a real act of bravery for Alexei Navalny to return to Russia, given that government agents already tried to kill him once,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth tweeted.

“But he understandably wants to be part of the pro-democracy movement in Russia, not a dissident in exile.”

Mr Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on 20 August.

He was transferred to a hospital in Berlin two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden tested the substance he was exposed to.

It was established he was poisoned with a Soviet-era novichok nerve agent – the same kind of substance used against Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a former Russian double agent and his daughter, in a 2018 poisoning in Salisbury.





Sky News