The lawyers of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said Tuesday they would appeal the decision of a Russian court that detained him for 3.5 years.
Navalny’s attorney said the anti-corruption blogger would only serve two years and eight months in jail for the time he has been under house arrest.
With the court’s decision to convert a 2014 suspended sentence to a real prison sentence, Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption activist who accused the Kremlin of poisoning him last year, is sentenced to a long prison term for the first time.
He was accused of parole violation for refusing to check into prison officials and was arrested while flying back from Germany to Moscow on January 17, where he spent months recovering from poisoning.
Navalny said it was impossible to make appointments overseas, but the judge said he skipped the sessions before the poisoning.
The widely awaited decision, which followed nationwide protests calling for Navalny’s release, is likely to further strain relations with the West, which is likely to consider sanctions against Russia for handling the case.
Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested last month after returning from Germany where he was recovering from poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent.
Tuesday’s hearing focused on alleged parole violations in a 2014 embezzlement case that was fabricated, according to Navalny.
In a fiery speech in court, Navalny claimed he was jailed for Putin’s concerns about him as a political rival, a proposal that the Kremlin laughed at and described Navalny as a problematic blogger without broad popular support.
Following the verdict, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded the release of Navalny and warned Washington and its allies to “hold Russia accountable for failing to exercise the rights of its citizens”.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for his release. Chancellor Angela Merkel described the decision as “far removed from any rule of law”, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as “pure cowardice”.
European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who will visit Moscow later this week, said it violated Russia’s international obligations regarding the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the West’s response as “disconnected from reality” adding: “There is no need to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in Moscow and other Russian cities over the past two weekends to demand the release of Navalny, resulting in a massive police operation in which several thousand people have been arrested.
According to the monitoring group OVD-Info, the police arrested more than 1,050 protests on Tuesday alone, mainly in Moscow.