A Russian court has begun the trial of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny on slander charges for comments he wrote on Twitter about several people who appeared in a pro-Kremlin video.
Navalny was charged with slandering a World War Two veteran who took part in the promotional video in support of last year’s constitutional amendments that cleared the way for President Vladimir Putin to run for two more terms in office after 2024 if he wants.
Navalny, who was present at the February 5 hearing, was charged after describing the veteran and others in the video as “the shame of the country” and “traitors” on Twitter in June.
The new trial comes just three days after the Kremlin critic was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence handed down in a widely criticized embezzlement case. Navalny will serve 2 years and 8 months of the sentence because of time already spent in detention, according to the ruling.
The sentencing sparked mass protests across Russia and condemnations by the West. U.S. President Joe Biden on February 4 called on Moscow to release the opposition leader “immediately and without condition.”
“Mr. Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian Constitution. He’s been targeted for exposing corruption,” Biden said in his first foreign policy address as president where he warned Moscow that the U.S. would no longer be “rolling over” when it came to human rights abuses and other activities that harmed U.S. interests.
The trial in Moscow began on the same day that the European Union’s top diplomat is in the Russian capital for talks that include Navalny’s case.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is expected to challenge Moscow over Navalny’s case and a crackdown on anti-government protesters when he meets Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on February 5.
“We have made our position very clear on the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny, his arrest, and that of thousands of demonstrators over the past days,” Borrell said, according to Interfax.
More than 10,000 Russian protesters have been arrested during protests demanding Navalny’s release.