The Russian Police on Sunday detained prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on arrival in Moscow after he flew back home from Germany for the first time since he was allegedly poisoned in August, reported Reuters. Navalny blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the attempt on his life last year but the Kremlin denied any role.
Thousands of Nevalny’s supporters had gathered at a Moscow airport to greet his flight from Berlin, but the plane was diverted to a different airport. The flight captain cited “technical difficulties” just before landing.
The activist was then taken to the Sheremetyevo airport, where four masked police officers led him away to passport control. They did not explain the reason for his detention.
The 44-year-old was accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement in a case that could see Navalny jailed for three-and-a-half years. The activist maintained that the charges against him were false and trumped-up.
Minutes before he was detained, Navalny said he was not afraid. “I know that I am right,” he said. “I know all the criminal cases against me are fabricated.” He kissed his wife, Yuliya, goodbye before walking off with the police.
Navalny was poisoned last summer by what German military tests showed was a Soviet-style Novichok chemical nerve agent. The findings were corroborated by labs in France and Sweden. Novichok, a potent class of chemical weapon developed by the Soviet Union, is the same substance that was used on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018.
For five months, Navalny stayed in Germany to recover. After the activist announced his return last week, the Moscow prison service (FSIN) said it would “do everything to arrest him once he returned”.
In a statement released on Sunday, the FSIN said Navalny had been detained due to the alleged violations of his suspended prison sentence, and that he would be held in custody until a court hearing later this month that will rule whether to convert his suspended sentence into a real jail term.
Separately, Russian prosecutors have launched a new criminal case against Navalny on fraud charges related to transfers of money to various charities, including his Anti-Corruption Foundation, according to BBC.
International community condemns arrest
Navalny’s arrest prompted widespread international condemnation.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the activist’s detention was the latest in a
“series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities”, reported AFP.
“Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor commit violence against or wrongfully detain political opponents,” Pompeo added in a statement. “We demand his immediate and unconditional release.”
European Council President Charles Michel too condemned the detention of Kremlin critic, and urged the Russian authorities to free him.
“The detainment of Alexey Navalny upon arrival in Moscow is unacceptable,” Michel wrote on Twitter. “I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him.”
The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell echoed the call for Navalny to be freed following his arrest. “Russian authorities must respect Alexei Navalny’s rights and release him immediately,” Borrell tweeted. “Politicisation of the judiciary is unacceptable.”