A judge in Moscow upheld a defamation conviction Thursday against jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, who joined a court hearing via videolink, in his first public appearance since he went on hunger strike.
The visibly gaunt Navalny used the platform to launch a broadside against President Vladimir Putin and his government, likening him to the foolish “naked king” from “The Emperor’s New Clothes” children’s tale and calling the judge and prosecutors “traitors.”
The activist was jailed in February in a separate case for breaking parole conditions, despite being in Germany recovering from poisoning with the military grade nerve agent Novichok when he was accused of failing to report to parole officers. Navalny blames the Kremlin for the attempt on his life, which the government has repeatedly denied.
Navalny went on hunger strike on March 31 while in prison to demand medical care, but ended it last week when he was finally given medical attention.
He spoke with his wife, Yulia Navalnya, who was physically present in court, telling her details about his weight and what he last ate.
He said he was taken to a bathhouse so that he could look “decent” for his hearing.
“I looked at myself. I’m just an awful skeleton. Last time I weighed 72 kilos I was probably in the seventh grade,” he said. His lawyer said Navalny had weighed 94 kilograms in January, when he returned to Moscow from Germany.
Navalny added that he ate “four tablespoons of porridge a day, today five, tomorrow I will eat six.”
In his final statement before Judge Kurysheva Natalia left to consider a decision, Navalny launched a tirade against Putin, likening him to the foolish king in the children’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
“I would like to say that your king is naked, and more than one little boy is shouting about it – it is now millions of people who are already shouting about it. It is quite obvious. Twenty years of incompetent rule have come to this: there is a crown sliding from his ears,” Navalny said of Putin, referring also to the mass anti-government protests in Russia following the activist’s imprisonment and during his hunger strike.
“Your naked king wants to rule until the end, he doesn’t care about the country, he is clung to power and wants to rule indefinitely,” he said.
He also turned his ire to the prosecutors in the courtroom.
“You are all traitors. You and the naked king are implementing a plan to seize Russia, and the Russians should be turned into slaves. Their wealth will be taken away from them, they will be deprived of any prospects, you have implemented that plan.”
He also told the judge to stop interrupting him, calling her a traitor as well.
Nalvalny was found guilty on February 20 of defaming a World War II veteran, 94-year-old Ignat Artemenko. The case was brought to court over comments Navalny made on social media last June criticizing a video broadcast by state TV channel RT, in which various prominent figures expressed support for controversial changes to the Russian constitution. Artemenko was among those supporters. Navalny was fined 850,000 roubles (around $11,400).
The constitutional changes, which were backed in a July 1 referendum, paved the way for Putin to stay in office until 2036, despite having already ruled the country for two decades.
Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said her client would appeal the decision in the European Court of Human Rights, “given the number of violations” in the way the case was carried out.
“He lost a huge amount of weight. He starved for a long time, he only drank water. But he looks quite fresh for a person in his situation,” she said.
Mikhailova confirmed that Navalny was still being treated at a hospital within the penal colony in the region of Vladimir, where he is imprisoned.
While on hunger strike, Navalny’s allies raised concerns about his health, and his doctors said medical tests showed he was at growing risk of renal failure and heart problems due to dangerous levels of potassium in his blood. Despite his ailing condition, Navalny joked at the time that if Novichok didn’t kill him, a potassium deficiency wouldn’t either.
Russia has brought several cases against Navalny, which he and his supporters say are trumped up.
The hearing also comes after prosecutors froze the activities of Navalny’s political movement across the country, pending a court decision on whether to designate it an extremist organization, alongside Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.
The movement’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, said Thursday the movement would be “officially disbanded,” but that staff in those offices would continue to work as independent movements, “but we will not finance them anymore, we will not set tasks for them, but we know that they by themselves will do a great job.”
The offices were initially set up in February 2017 with the aim of organizing activities for volunteers during the Russian presidential election campaign. After the elections the regional offices took on other local political work.