Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Given Prison Sentence

Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny given prison sentence

What just happened?

Alexei Navalny, anti-corruption campaigner and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opposition, has been sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison for violating the terms of an existing sentence[1].

What does this mean?

Alexei Navalny is the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (known as FBK in Russian), which has conducted investigations into corruption among Russia’s senior officials, prominent politicians and businesspeople[2]. Many FBK employees and associates have already been subject to reprisals for their work, including concocted criminal and administrative charges, police raids and house searches[3].

In 2014, Navalny was found guilty of committing fraud[4]. The case was condemned not only by Navalny himself, who claimed it was politically motivated[5] and fabricated to silence him, but also by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2016[6]. The court found that Navalny’s rights had been violated and ordered Russia to pay compensation to him[7].

Although, the Russian Supreme Court ordered a retrial, it neglected to deal with the human rights violations identified by the ECHR and upheld the initial conviction and sentence[8].  Navalny is now in prison for violating the terms of this sentence by failing to report regularly to the police during 2020[9]. Despite this being because he was receiving emergency treatment in Berlin for the Novichok[10] nerve agent attack. For part of this time Navalny was in a coma, as soon as he recovered, he returned to Russia[11].

Navalny accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering the attack. The Kremlin denies any involvement in his poisoning and rejected the Novichok finding[12].


Alexei Navalny was arrested on the 17th of January 2021, resulting in mass protests across Russia by his supporters that lasted for two weeks[13]. Police responded to the unauthorised but predominantly peaceful protests with force and thousands were detained[14].

How does this affect the legal sector?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court[15] that Alexei Navalny should be released from jail immediately because of the risk to his life[16]. However, due to changes in Russian law passed in December 2020 that gives the Russian constitution precedence overruling of international bodies as well as international treaties where they come into conflict, Russia has not released Navalny[17].

If the ECHR an International Court of the Council of Europe and Europe's main human rights forum of which Russia is a member[18] doesn’t have the power to take action to prevent human rights abuses, then it begs the question of what can be done to stop these violations occurring. The ECHR has limited options left; it could expel Russia from the council for failing to meet obligations but that would have serious repercussions for Russian citizens[19] . Another option would be to impose new EU sanctions. Although when the EU previously imposed sanctions against six top Russian officials and a Russian chemical weapons research centre after the Novichok attack against Navalny accusing them of direct involvement in the poisoning, Russia retaliated with tit-for-tat sanctions[20].

It is likely that by sending the most vocal critic off to prison and the only opposition leader in Russia that is capable of bringing large crowds onto the street nationwide (there were protests in over 100 cities after Navalny was arrested)[21], the Kremlin will be hoping to neutralise the threat that Navalny poses. This poses the question of how democracy is affected if there is no opposition leader to challenge President Vladimir Putin.


“With this decision, the Russian authorities not only further exacerbate human rights violations as already established by the European Court of Human Rights, they also send a signal undermining the protection of the rights of all Russian citizens and affecting the integrity of the European system of human rights protection.

The Russian authorities should restore a climate of respect for human rights based on the international standards by which the Russian Federation is bound.” - Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe on Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment[22].


The Legists Content Team

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[1]BBC News, ‘Alexei Navalny: Russia’s vociferous Putin critic’ (BBC News, Feb 2021) <>accessed 11 Feb 2021

[2] Amnesty International UK, ‘Aleksei Navalny given prison sentence’ <> accessed 24 Feb 2021

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] Andrew Roth, ‘Alexei Navalny loses appeal against Russian prison camp sentence’ (The Guardian, 20 Feb 2021) <> Accessed 22 Feb 2021

[6] ibid (n 1)

[7] ibid (n 1)

[8] ibid (n2)

[9] ibid (n1)

[10] Novichok was the same chemical weapon that nearly killed former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018. (ibid)

[11] ibid (n1)

[12] Steve Rosenbery, ‘Alexei Navalny: Putin critic loses appeal against jailing’ (BBC News, 20 Feb 2021) <> accessed 24 Feb 2021

[13] Damelya Aitkhozhina ‘Russian Court Rules to Jail Navalny’ (Human Rights Watch, 2 Feb 2021) <> accessed 25 Feb 2021

[14] ibid

[15] Deutsche Welle ‘’Release’ Alexei Navalny, European Court of Human Rights tells Russia’ (Deutsche Welle, 17 Feb 2021) <> accessed 25 Feb 2021

[16] BBC News ‘Navalny must be freed, European rights court tells Russia’ (BBC News, 18 Feb 2021) <> accessed 26 Feb 2021

[17] ibid

[18] ibid (n 5)

[19] ibid (n 15)

[20] ibid (n 1)

[21] Thomas Rowley, ‘How Alexei Navalny changed Russian politics forever’ (openDemocrary, 26 Jan 2021) <> accessed 25 Feb 2021

[22] ‘Navalny judgement contravenes Russia’s international human rights obligations’ (Council of Europe,2 Feb 2021) <> accessed 26 Feb 2021



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