Alexei Navalny looks gaunt as he appears in court following hunger strike

Alexei Navalny is seen on a TV screen during a court hearing
Alexei Navalny is seen on a TV screen during a court hearing (AP)
13:31pm, Thu 29 Apr 2021
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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been seen in public for the first time in a month as he appeared in court via video link.

Mr Navalny was seen in the link from prison during an appeal against his conviction and fine for defaming a Second World War veteran. The politician was convicted in February.

It was his first public appearance since his transfer to a penal colony in March.

Even though the quality of the video link was poor, it was visibly clear that the politician has lost a lot of weight. His head was shaven clean, and he wore a prison uniform and glasses.

Yulia Navalny attended the court hearing (AP)

Mr Navalny took an active part in the court hearing and spoke energetically despite his gaunt appearance.

During a break, he asked his wife, Yulia, who was present at the hearing, to stand up so he could see her. He told her he is now eating several spoons of porridge each day — part of winding down his hunger strike.

“When we saw each other during visitation (in the colony), I weighed two kilograms more — it was 74 (163lbs) and now it’s 72 (159lbs),” Mr Navalny said.

“Seventy-two suits you better than 74,” Yulia responded with a smile.

In his statement to the court, Mr Navalny referred to President Vladimir Putin as “the emperor with no clothes” and charged that Russia under his rule “continues to degrade every year”.

Navalny poster in Russia (AP)

Shortly after his emotional speech, the judge rejected the appeal.

Mr Navalny’s court appearance came as one of his top allies said a network of the politician’s offices in Russia was being closed as authorities seek to have it and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption outlawed as extremist groups.

The Moscow prosecutor’s office petitioned a court this month to declare both the regional offices and Mr Navalny’s anti-corruption organisation as extremist groups, a label that would outlaw their activities, expose members and supporters to lengthy prison terms, and pose a major challenge for Mr Navalny’s embattled team.

Leonid Volkov, who as Mr Navalny’s top strategist runs the regional offices, said that preserving the network in its current state “is impossible” because of the extremism charges but rebranding them would not help either.

“Unfortunately, it is impossible to work in these conditions. We’re officially dismantling the network of Navalny’s headquarters,” Mr Volkov said on the messaging app Telegram.

Mr Volkov’s statement comes amid a sweeping crackdown on Mr Navalny, President Putin’s fiercest critic, and his organisations. Dozens of his aides and associates have been arrested, targeted for raids by law enforcement, or are facing criminal charges.

Leonid Volkov (AP)

While imprisoned, Mr Navalny said he developed severe back pain and numbness in his limbs, and he spent more than three weeks on a hunger strike to protest against authorities refusing to allow his doctor see him. Instead, they moved him to another prison with a hospital ward.

Mr Volkov assured supporters that Mr Navalny’s team was not giving up.

“The networks of Navalny’s headquarters doesn’t exist anymore, but there are dozens of strong and tough regional politicians, thousands of his supporters, there are strong and independent political organisations which will work on investigations and elections, public campaigns and rallies. You will help them, and they will succeed,” he said.

Mr Navalny was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.

His arrest triggered protests across Russia that proved to be the biggest show of defiance in years. But they did not stop authorities from putting Mr Navalny on trial for violating the terms of a suspended sentence while he was in Germany.

The sentence stemmed from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Mr Navalny has characterszed as politically motivated.

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