Moscow, Feb 5 (efe-epa).- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared at a court in Moscow Friday to face defamation charges for slandering a World War II veteran in a new battle for the Kremlin critic.
Navalny, who was earlier in the week sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for violating probation terms in a 2014 money-laundering conviction, has denied the allegations that he denigrated Ignat Artemenko, 95, a World War 2 veteran.
The hearing was held in Moscow’s Babushkinsky District Court, according to the Meduza portal.
The opposition leader is accused of making defamatory remarks on his Telegram channel in June 2020.
He allegedly described a group of public figures as “corrupt stooges” for promoting constitutional amendments by President Vladimir Putin.
The amendment allowed Putin’s extension as the president, and the state-run broadcaster Russia Today aired its promotional video.
If proven guilty, Navalny faces up to two years in prison for making “false” comments that “discredited the honor and dignity” of Artemenko, who appeared in the promotional video.
Navalny denied having ever known Artemenko and told the judge during the hearing that his relatives were “shameless people” who were using the veteran to target him.
“This trial was conceived as some kind of PR trial because the Kremlin needs headlines, ‘Navalny slandered a veteran’,” he said in the court, according to his Twitter handle.
“I find it really disgusting and unbearable. You have been using him (the veteran) as a puppet. You are making a mockery of a 95-year-old man.”
The case went to court in August last year, but the hearing got repeatedly delayed because the 44-year-old politician was recovering in Germany.
He returned to Russia on Jan.17 after months of treatment in a Berlin hospital following an attempt on his life by a chemical nerve agent poisoning in the Siberian city of Omsk.
He has blamed his poisoning on Russian security services and Putin. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Russian police arrested Navalny soon after he landed in Moscow. The authorities put him on trial for breaching the parole terms during his stay in Germany.
Of the three and half year sentence awarded earlier this week, he will serve two years and eight months because he has already spent about 10 months under house arrest.
His imprisonment sparked protests in Russia, and thousands of his supporters were detained during the demonstrations for his release.
In a related development that adds a new twist to the poisoning incident, one of the top doctors at the hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk where Navalny was treated immediately after he fell ill during a flight, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing.
“With regret, we inform you that Maksimishin Sergey Valentinovich, deputy chief physician for anesthesiology and resuscitation at Omsk emergency hospital No.1, suddenly passed away,” the hospital said in a statement.
According to his colleagues, Maximishin’s parents had recently passed away which had badly affected the 56-year-old doctor. EFE-EPA