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Navalny, Top Kremlin Critic, Says New Charge Could Jail Him for Life

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The jailed Russian opposition leader said he faced a terrorism case that he described as “absurd.”

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A guard next to empty courtroom benches, with a screen above them showing Aleksei Navalny.

Aleksei A. Navalny appeared via a video link on Wednesday at a hearing in a Moscow court over separate extremism charges.Credit…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ivan Nechepurenko
  • April 26, 2023Updated 10:36 a.m. ET

Aleksei A. Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, said on Wednesday that Russian authorities had initiated “absurd” new terrorism charges against him that could lead to life in prison.

Mr. Navalny’s comments, which were posted on his team’s Twitter account, came as he appeared via video link at a court hearing over separate extremism charges that are widely seen as politically motivated.

Mr. Navalny, who started as an anticorruption activist before becoming one of the Kremlin’s most prominent critics, is already serving a sentence in a penal colony for fraud and contempt of court. Since returning to Russia after recovering in Germany from a poisoning attempt that the West has blamed on the Kremlin, he has repeatedly faced new charges from Russian authorities.

In the comments relayed from the courtroom by his supporters on social media, Mr. Navalny said that an investigator had informed him on Tuesday that a terrorism case had been initiated against him that would be heard in a separate trial by a military court. The Russian authorities did not confirm the charges.

Mr. Navalny said that he faces up to 30 years over the extremism case and up to a life sentence over the terrorism one. He said that the authorities alleged that he had committed terrorist acts while in prison. He did not elaborate on the specifics of the latest accusation but called the claim “absurd.”

Wednesday’s hearing was focused on how much time Mr. Navalny can have to familiarize himself with the extremism case against him. That case is linked to his anticorruption foundation, which the authorities declared an “extremist organization” and effectively banned in 2021.

The judge gave him until May 5, Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said, and ruled that the trial would be held behind closed doors. Ms. Yarmysh said that the short period given to Mr. Navalny to read his case materials meant that the trial would begin soon, probably before the end of May.

“I insist that the attempt to close the process is not an attempt to simply restrict me in getting acquainted with the case,” Mr. Navalny said, according to his supporters. “It is an attempt to make sure no one finds out about it.”

Mr. Navalny, a lawyer, exposed widespread corruption among the Russian elite and around President Vladimir V. Putin and created a rival political organization to the Kremlin’s, with regional divisions and supporters across the country.

The Kremlin has put pressure on his supporters for years, but the situation escalated in 2020, when Mr. Navalny was poisoned in what he said was an attempt to murder him by the Kremlin. The Russian authorities denied involvement.

In January 2021, Mr. Navalny returned to Moscow after spending months in Germany recovering from the poisoning.

Mr. Navalny and his supporters have said that he is in deteriorating health and have accused prison doctors at a penal colony east of Moscow of giving him substandard care. He says he has been repeatedly placed in “punishment cells” for trivial reasons.

A photo from the courtroom posted on Twitter by Mr. Navalny’s supporters showed him on the video link in a prison uniform and looking thin and tired.