Russian opposition leader, lawyer and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny paraphrased Jesus’ Sermon the Mount and made pop culture references during his final argument before a Moscow City Court rejected the appeal of his prison sentence relating to an alleged probation violation on Saturday.
Navalny, who was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning to Russia after recovering at a Berlin hospital from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning, told the judge he was not guilty of parole violations because he was unable to report to the Moscow prison service last year since he was recovering in Germany, according to reports.
In his closing statement before the sentencing, Navalny reportedly quoted the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount and said he believes those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, reports The Associated Press.
Navalny, who is known by some as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most,” reportedly told the court that he was once an atheist, but now his belief in God helps him face his challenges.
“Even though our country is built on injustice and we all constantly face injustice ... we also see that millions of people, tens of millions of people, want righteousness,” Navalny was quoted as saying. “They want the righteousness and sooner or later they will have it.”
He said Russia was built on injustice and that tens of millions of people want the truth. He said he did not regret returning to Russia after his hospital release though it brought his arrest.
“To live is to risk it all,” he said, in reference to “Rick and Morty,” an animated sci-fi sitcom. “Otherwise, you're just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.”
Navalny, who leads the Russia of the Future Party, said the government scares people to persuade them that they are alone. He encouraged Russians to resist authoritarian pressure.
“Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off,” he said in a Harry Potter reference, referring to Putin.
The opposition leader’s arrest ignited widespread protests across Russia, leading to thousands of arrests. He was sent to the Matrosskaya Tushina prison in Moscow on Jan. 18.
On Saturday, the court decreased his prison sentence from two years and eight months to just over two years and six months, AP notes. He will likely be sent to a remote penal colony.
Navalny mocked the ruling while standing in a glass cage in the courtroom.
“They've reduced the sentence by one-and-a-half months. Great!” he was quoted as saying.
Later in the day, Navalny returned to court and was fined for slandering a World War II veteran. Navalny said this is an effort to disparage him further and has rejected the slander charges.
Last Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to temporarily release Navalny because it “could not provide sufficient safeguards for his life and health.” However, Russia called the court’s ruling a “blatant and gross interference in the judicial affairs of a sovereign state,” The Guardian notes.
Last August, Navalny became suddenly sick on a plane over Siberia and was rushed to receive treatment in Germany, where he lay in a coma for two weeks.
Reports suggest that Navalny was poisoned by a chemical weapon called Novichok, a powder or liquid agent that can only be produced in specialized laboratories.
Navalny blames the government for his nearly lethal poisoning. But the Kremlin denies this allegation.
According to BBC, Navalny claims to have tracked down a weapons expert behind the poisoning who said the poison was mainly laced in his underwear, but this was also dismissed as false by the Russian government.
Tens of thousands have called for his release. AP reported over 5,100 protesters were arrested, and some were beaten. Navalny’s wife was among those detained.
Navalny’s Twitter account has over 2.5 million followers and appeals to a younger audience. His recent video, “Putin’s palace. History of world’s largest bribe,” has garnered over 113 million views and details the extravagance of the Black Sea estate allegedly built for Putin.
Protestors chanted, “Putin, resign!” and “Putin, thief,"the news agency reports, adding that it is the largest, most widespread wave of demonstrations in Russia for years. The demonstrators believe the truth is on their side, protestor Leonid Martynov said.
Navalny has accused Putin of “sucking the blood out of Russia” through concentrating power in the Kremlin and contends the United Russia Party is full of “crooks and thieves,” according to BBC.
U.S. Secretary of StateAnthony Blinken tweeted on Feb. 2 that the United States is "deeply concerned by Russia’s actions toward Navalny.”
“We reiterate our call for his immediate and unconditional release as well as the release of all those wrongfully detained for exercising their rights,” Blinken stated.
Navalny founded the Anti-Corruption Foundation and is known for his investigations of the Russian state and officials, according to the Yale World Fellows program, where he was a world fellow in 2010.
Navalny attempted to run for president of Russia in 2018 but was banned by Russia’s Central Electoral Commission and Supreme Court, according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
“I believe that one of the main problems in modern Russia is corruption,” Navalny said in a statement on the Yale World Fellows website. “I focus on combating it using all available methods: conducting investigations, publicizing facts about abuses of power, and organizing peaceful protests.”
The 44-year-old activist and his wife, Yulia, have two children: Daria and Zakhar.