A Moscow court turned a 2014 suspended sentence into real jail time, sending Kremlin’s most prominent critic Alexey Navalny to jail for nearly three years. World leaders have condemned the ruling and urged Navalny’s release.

A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021.
A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. (Reuters)

A Moscow court has jailed the Kremlin's most prominent critic Alexey Navalny for nearly three years, triggering fierce condemnation from the West and calls for his immediate release.

The court's decision to turn a 2014 suspended sentence into real jail time will see Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner who accuses the Kremlin of poisoning him last year, serve a lengthy prison term for the first time.

Britain, France, Germany, the United States and the European Union denounced the ruling as Moscow accused the West of interfering in its affairs.

Navalny's supporters called for more demonstrations over the decision, after thousands joined nationwide protests against his arrest over the last two weekends.

The case is presenting one of the most serious challenges to the Kremlin in years, with some in the West calling for new sanctions against Russia.

READ MORE: How Putin systematically persecutes the opposition

United States

"We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

"Today's perverse ruling, targeting the victim of a poisoning rather than those responsible, shows Russia is failing to meet the most basic commitments expected of any responsible member of the international community," said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

EU

European Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter, the sentencing of Alexey Navalny runs counter (to) Russia's international commitments on rule of law & fundamental freedoms. It goes against the verdict of ECHR, which ruled this case arbitrary and unreasonable. I call for his immediate release.

"Navalny should not have been arrested and tried in the first place because the criminal conviction that has served as a basis for today's custodial sentence had already been considered arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable by the European Court of Human Rights," Dinja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

France

"The conviction of Alexey Navalny is unacceptable. A political disagreement is never a crime. We call for his immediate release. The respect for human rights such as democratic freedom are not negotiable," wrote French President Emmanuel Macron on Twitter.

Lithuania

"The dialogue between the European Union and Russia is now possible only in the language of sanctions. If the community doesn't hurry, Lithuania will consider its own national sanctions," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said to Reuters.

Latvia

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter: "Decision to imprison Russian opposition leader Alexey @navalny is both appalling cynicism and complete disregard of rule of law and international obligations by #Russia.

He must be released immediately. #EU must impose sanctions, @coe must act as this is breach of ECHR ruling."

The Netherlands

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok expressed his concerns saying, "Deeply concerned about the conviction of @Navalny. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech and a fair trial. We call on the Russian authorities to immediately release Navalny and all those detained during the protests of the last weeks."

Germany

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass also took Twitter, saying: "Today's verdict against Alexey Navalny is a bitter blow against fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in Russia. Alexey Navalny must be released immediately."

Human Rights Watch

"Navalny's prison sentence is monstrously unjust. He should be freed immediately. As he said in his closing speech in court today, the Kremlin aims to 'jail one person to intimidate millions.' More likely to infuriate millions," said executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth.

On the other side, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova urged countries not to interfere Russia's internal affairs.

"For the last few weeks we have been in a state of comments and responses to similar attacks and statements. You should not interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. And we recommend that everyone deal with their own problems ... there are a lot of problems in these countries, there is work to be done," she said.

READ MORE: Kremlin warns against protests to free Navalny, dismisses sanctions

Source: TRTWorld and agencies