Navalny ally jailed for two years for 'extremist' tweets

Pavel Zelensky, a cameraman for Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, in October posted two tweets critical of the authorities after an independent journalist set herself on fire and passed away.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny rides on a bus from a plane to a terminal of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on 17 January 2021. Picture: AFP

MOSCOW, Russia - A Russian court on Friday sentenced an ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to two years in a penal colony on charges of inciting extremism online.

Pavel Zelensky, a cameraman for Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, in October posted two tweets critical of the authorities after an independent journalist set herself on fire and passed away.

Irina Slavina, the editor of a news website in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, killed herself after police raided her home as part of a probe targeting an opposition group.

In January, Zelensky was charged with "public calls to extremism on the internet". Investigators said his tweets contained "threats and hostile statements" targeting senior government members.

Zelensky tweeted that he hated President Vladimir Putin and his spokesman Dmitry Peskov among other officials, adding that they did not deserve being alive.

A Moscow court on Friday found Zelensky guilty and sentenced him to two years in a penal colony, court spokeswoman Marina Sviridova told AFP.

Zelensky pleaded guilty to the charges, a decision his wife said was made "not under pressure" but in the hope of getting a lenient sentence.

Navalny's aides and supporters are subject to frequent police raids and arrests over their political activities.

His allies have faced increasing pressure in recent months after the opposition politician returned to Russia in January from Germany, where he spent months recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack that he blames on the Kremlin.

He was arrested on his arrival and sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars on old embezzlement charges, sparking nationwide protests.

On March 31, Navalny announced a hunger strike in his penal colony, demanding adequate medical treatment for pain in his back and numbness in his legs.

His team on Monday said that Russian prison officials had threatened to start force-feeding him.

Navalny, who has lost significant weight since arriving at the facility in February, reiterated in an Instagram post on Friday that prison authorities are threatening to force feed him.

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