Russian opponent Alexei Navalny, Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament

Alexei Navalny, 45 years old, awarded this Wednesday with the Sakharov Prize, is a lawyer, but he began to become known in 2008 as an anti-corruption activist through his blog. Later he would create his main platform to carry out his crusade against the rot in high places, the Foundation for the Fight against Corruption (FBK in its Russian acronym), an organization now outside the law and classified by Russian Justice as “extremist”.

Navalny became very popular in December 2011, when he led the largest mobilizations seen in Russia since the 1990s to denounce the electoral fraud perpetrated in the legislative elections that then gave victory to the Kremlin party, “United Russia.” President Vladimir Putin has never spoken his name until now. He refers to himself as “citizen” when he has to answer questions from journalists.

However, his mobilizations did not prevent Putin from being re-elected as head of the country in March 2012. However, the Kremlin’s main political adversary did manage to obtain second place, with more than 27.5% of the votes, in the Moscow mayoral elections in September 2013. It was the best result achieved by an extra-parliamentary politician since Putin came to power.

His success put the Kremlin on guard and, in February 2018, he was disqualified from holding public office for crimes that he always considered “fabricated” or rigged. The objective of such a measure was to prevent him from running in the presidential elections in March of that same year, which Putin won again. This was determined by the Central Electoral Commission and he was left out of the race for the Presidency.

But the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in his favor, considering all the prison sentences imposed on him up to that point “politically motivated.” The Council of Europe also demanded that Russia, although to no avail, allow Navalny to face Putin in the elections, which is why the Russian authorities were accused of violating fundamental rights.

The criticism that came from abroad for the harassment of Navalni and the entire opposition did not stop the Kremlin. Quite the contrary, Russia’s main dissident was consistently sentenced to prison terms, mostly for calling for demonstrations.

Navalny, through investigations carried out by the FBK, unmasked corruption and irregularities perpetrated by prominent members of the Russian elite, including the head of the Kremlin himself. Targets of the revealing and stark videos broadcast by Navalni through YouTube were figures such as the former Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev, the President of the Duma (Lower House) Vyacheslav Volodin, the former Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika, many ministers, regional governors and the head of the National Guard (Rosgvardia), General Vladimir Zolotov. Also oligarchs such as Alisher Usmánov, Igor Sechin, director of Rosneft, and Evgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s cook”, owner of a paramilitary company and who is credited with creating a center for the dissemination of hoaxes and launching of cyber attacks. The FBK also revealed that Putin had a large palace built on the Black Sea coast.

During the summer of 2019, Navalny led massive protests over the veto of candidates, not only him, but many others from opposition forces, in the regional and municipal elections that were held in September. He asked to vote for any party other than Putin’s party, United Russia, in what he called a “smart vote”, achieving the decline of the ruling party in Moscow and in some regions of the country. The Kremlin responded by unleashing a campaign of searches at its headquarters and the homes of its collaborators.

In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned with the military-use substance “Novichok”, the same used against former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018, while campaigning in Tomsk (Siberia) for opposition candidates for a new round of local elections. He was in a coma for several weeks and was taken in by the Charité Clinic in Berlin to cure him.

While still convalescing in Germany, in December of last year, the Russian Investigative Committee (SK in its Russian acronym) initiated a new criminal case against him for an alleged crime of “fraud”, an accusation that Navalny also called “rigged.” ». Upon his return to Russia, on January 17 of this year, the opposition leader was detained as soon as he set foot at the airport. He and his brother were found guilty in 2014 of “fraud and money laundering” in a case related to the French firm Yves Rocher. They were sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

That sentence was suspended, but last February the Simonovski court in Moscow decided to lift the suspension and send Navalny to a penal colony. Navalny was also sentenced this year to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles (about 10,000 euros) for defamation against a 94-year-old World War II veteran, whom he reprimanded for participating in an advertisement in support of the constitutional reforms that Putin promoted. last year to continue two more terms at the head of Russia.

The FBK was dissolved in June and considered an “extremist” organization. The alert protocol for “terrorists” has been applied to Navalni in prison. The last episode of this long chain of persecution occurred in September, when the SK announced the opening of another criminal case against him. He is now accused of leading an “extremist organization whose objective is to discredit the State authorities and their policies (…) and promote a transfer of power through violent means.”

In addition to Navalny, his main collaborators are accused in the same dossier: Leonid Volkov, Iván Zhkdanov, Liubov Sóbol, Georgi Albúrov, all of them currently in exile, and other members of the opposition leader’s team. He is currently serving a sentence of two years and five months in prison. If the guilt of those involved in “extremist” activities is proven, the sentences could reach 10 years in prison.

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