Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was rushed to a court hearing inside a police station on Monday, a day after he was detained at a Moscow airport when flying home for the first time since he was poisoned last summer.
On August 20, Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where he spent two days in hospital before being evacuated to Germany.
Germany said he was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him. Two independent laboratories, one in Sweden and one in France, as well as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons later confirmed that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok.
Navalny reiterated his accusation that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin ordered the attack. Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that it was involved in the poisoning. However, a joint media inquiry last month said it had identified a team of assassins from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
On Sunday, four masked police officers detained Navalny at passport control. His detention was ordered by Moscow’s prison service in relation to alleged violations of a suspended prison sentence in an embezzlement case he says was trumped up. Minutes before he was detained, Navalny had said: “I am not afraid. I know that I am right. I know all the criminal cases against me are fabricated”.
Western nations told Russia to immediately free the politician and some countries called for new sanctions. Moscow, however, told them to mind their own business.
“Russia is bound by its own constitution and by international obligations to the principle of the rule of law and to the protection of civil rights. These principles must, of course, be applied to Alexei Navalny as well. He should be released immediately”, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said in a statement on Monday.
US president-elect Joe Biden’s incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter: “Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable”.
The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Italy had also called for Navalny’s release. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said they wanted the EU’s foreign ministers to discuss further sanctions against Russia on Monday for detaining Navalny. Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek also said he wanted the EU to discuss possible sanctions.
The United Nations human rights office called for Navalny’s immediate release, saying it was “deeply troubled” by his arrest.
“Respect international law, do not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states and address problems in your own country”, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Western countries’ expressions of outrage over the detention were designed to distract their citizens from domestic problems.
On Monday, a judge ordered Navalny to be remanded in custody for 30 days, the politician’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter.
Navalny, 44, has endured multiple incarcerations in recent years, a barred attempt to run for president, and a hamstrung bid for the Moscow mayor’s post.