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Kremlin critic Navalny says Europe court has ordered his release

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Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Wednesday that the European Court of Human Rights had ordered Russia to release him immediately, citing risks to his life.

“The Court decided to indicate to the Government of Russia… to release the applicant. This measure shall apply with immediate effect,” the ECHR said.

It said that the ruling was taken with “regard to the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life”.

Russia is a member of the Council of Europe rights body, which the ECHR belongs to. Member states are obliged to enforce ECHR decisions, though in practice they may not be implemented. 

The court said Russia insisted in its argument to the court that Navalny was being held in an appropriately guarded facility and that his cell was under video surveillance.

But Navalny, who lodged a complaint on January 20, contended that “the arrangements listed by the government could not provide sufficient safeguards for his life and health,” the court said. 

President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic was jailed this month for almost three years for parole violations that he said were trumped up. The West has condemned the case and is discussing possible sanctions on Russia.

His arrest sparked two consecutive weekends of nationwide protests demanding his release, in some of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in years.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption activist is accused of defaming a veteran who took part in a promotional video backing constitutional reforms last year. The reform, approved in a referendum, will let Putin run for two more terms in the Kremlin after 2024 if he wants to.

Also read: Prosecutors seek $13,000 slander fine for Navalny

A Moscow court earlier this month ruled to convert a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence Navalny received on fraud charges in 2014 to jail time over alleged parole violations.

Navalny is now facing defamation charges for referring to a World War II veteran and others who appeared in a pro-Kremlin video as “traitors”.

A Moscow district court on Tuesday heard the final arguments in the case, during which the prosecutor asked for a fine of 950,000 rubles ($13,000/10,600 euros).

As the alleged defamation occurred during the suspended sentence, the prosecutor also requested that it be converted to real jail time, despite the other court having already ruled to do so.

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