Navalny to appeal jail sentence as calls for his release grow

Calls are growing from the international community for jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to be freed, news wires reported. Moscow has hit back, saying other countries should not interfere in Russia's internal matters.

A Moscow court on Tuesday ordered Navalny to prison for more than 2 1/2 years, finding that he violated the terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany from nerve-agent poisoning. Navalny’s lawyers immediately said they would appeal the prison sentence. The court ruling ignited protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, AP reported. Helmeted riot police grabbed demonstrators without obvious provocation and put them in police vehicles. The Meduza website showed video of police roughly pulling a passenger and driver out of a taxi. About 650 people were arrested, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests.

“We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after the ruling.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the “perverse ruling, targeting the victim of a poisoning rather than those responsible, shows Russia is failing to meet the most basic commitments expected of any responsible member of the international community.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the verdict "a harsh blow against universally recognized freedoms and the rule of law in Russia."

Russia has dismissed the criticism as meddling in its domestic affairs and said Navalny’s current situation is a procedural matter for the court, not an issue for the government. Earlier on Tuesday the Kremlin sharply rejected criticism of the trial, particularly from Brussels. Russia would not accept "admonitions" by the European Union, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said according to news agency Interfax.

Navalny was arrested on 17 January upon returning from his five-month convalescence in Germany from the attack, which he has blamed on the Kremlin. Russian authorities deny any involvement. Despite tests by several European labs, Russian authorities said they have no proof he was poisoned.

The prison sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and politically motivated. He emphasized that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his 2014 conviction was unlawful and Russia paid him compensation in line with the ruling.

More than a dozen Western diplomats attended the hearing on Tuesday. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said their presence was part of efforts by the West to contain Russia, adding that it could be an attempt to exert “psychological pressure” on the judge.

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