MOSCOW: Russian prosecutors on Tuesday called on Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to serve 13 years in prison on fresh fraud charges.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken domestic critic, went to prison last year after surviving a poisoning attack with a Novichok nerve agent he blamed on the Kremlin.
He now faces embezzlement and contempt of court charges and is being tried in a prison colony outside Moscow where he is already serving a 2.5-year sentence.
Russian news agencies quoted prosecutor Nadezhda Tikhonova as saying: “I request that Navalny be sentenced to 13 years, followed by two years of probation.”
The prosecutor asked Navalny to be sent to a “strict regime” penal colony, which would put him in more harsh conditions with repeat offenders.
The prosecutor also called for him to pay a fine of 1.2 million rubles ($10,600 or 9,500 euros).
“You can’t put everyone in jail. Even if you ask for 113 years, you will not scare me or others like me,” Navalny said in court, his team wrote on social media.
The judge will deliver the verdict on March 22.
It was not immediately clear whether the 13 years would include Navalny’s sentence that he is currently serving.
Navalni spoke in court wearing his black prison uniform, which was watched by journalists via a video link.
The Mediajona news site reported that broadcasts were constantly being cut during his final speech.
In a statement later posted by supporters, Navalny said his speech focused on Russia’s military crackdown in Ukraine, calling it a “bloody cover-up for the failure of Putin’s regime”.
“Every person must act. In their own way, as they can, given the circumstances. But act, ”said Navalny.
In court, he referred to “wonderful woman” Marina Ovsiyannikova, who on Monday interrupted a state TV news broadcast holding an anti-war poster.
He told supporters that he was “completely fine” and was “only concerned about the fact that others are worrying about me.”
A prominent Navalny ally and former head of his now-banned regional offices, Leonid Volkov, said Russia is seeking Navalny’s life in prison.
“He was given a life sentence from the very beginning. As long as Putin is in the Kremlin,” Volkov said on Twitter.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmish said her sentence depends on “how long Putin has been in power.”
“Then we will do everything so that he does not remain in power for a long time,” said Yarmish.
Investigators accused Navalny of stealing several million dollars of personal use donations that were given to his political organizations.
Before being imprisoned, Navalny was Russia’s main opposition leader and his team often published investigations into the wealth of Russia’s elite, which were viewed millions of times on YouTube.
Navalny’s 2020 poisoning with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and his arrest on his return from rehabilitation in Germany last year sparked widespread condemnation abroad as well as sanctions from western capitals.
Following his arrest, Navalny’s political organizations across the country were declared “extremist” and closed, while several prominent aides fled Russia for fear of prosecution.
Russia, along with several declared foreign agents, has increased pressure on independent media and NGOs or closed for fear of prosecution.
Russia has passed a new law punishing up to 15 years in prison for “fake news” about its military operation in Ukraine.
In an effort to further control the information available to its domestic audience, Russia this month restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and blocked the websites of several independent news outlets.
On Instagram, Navalny condemned the conflict and called on his supporters to protest, despite the high likelihood of fines and arrest.
According to the independent monitor OVD-Info, over the past two weeks, about 15,000 people have been detained in demonstrations in Ukraine across Russia.