A Russian judge remanded Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in pre-trial detention for 30 days on Monday for violating the terms of a suspended jail sentence, ignoring calls from Western countries to free the opposition politician immediately.
The ruling, which comes a day after police detained him at the airport as he returned home for the first time since being poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent, may be the prelude to him being jailed for years.
Moscow’s prison service has applied to convert a suspended 3½-year embezzlement sentence in the same case, which Navalny says was trumped up, into real jail time later this month.
He faces three other separate criminal cases, too.
The United Nations and Western countries told Moscow before the ruling to let Navalny go and some countries have called for new sanctions after earlier penalties from the EU in response to his poisoning. Moscow told them to mind their own business.
WATCH | Putin critic arrested on return to Moscow:
Navalny, in a video released on Twitter after the ruling, urged Russians to take to the streets in protest.
“Don’t be afraid, take to the streets. Don’t go out for me, go out for yourself and your future,” Navalny said.
He called his treatment illegal under Russian law and lashed out at President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of throwing the criminal code out of the window in fear.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond, but has previously said that the 44-year-old politician must face justice like any other citizen if he has done anything wrong.
Around 200 hundred Navalny supporters had gathered outside the police station in temperatures of –18 C and demanded he be set free, a Reuters witness said.
Four masked police officers detained Navalny at passport control on Sunday evening, the first time he had returned home after being poisoned by what German military tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent, a version of events the Kremlin rejects.
Western nations told Russia, which could face punitive sanctions over its conduct, to immediately free Navalny. The Russian Foreign Ministry quickly rejected those calls, telling them to mind their own business.
“Respect international law, do not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states and address problems in your own country,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.
Navalny’s case could trigger new sanctions against Russia, especially against an $11.6 billion US project to build a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, with some EU countries saying they want the bloc to swiftly impose such measures.
The ruble weakened as investors weighed the risk of new sanctions against Moscow.
The United Nations human rights office called on Monday for the immediate release of Navalny.
“We are deeply troubled by the arrest of Aleksei Navalny, and call for his immediate release and for his due process rights to be respected in line with the rule of law,” the Geneva-based rights office said in a statement on Twitter.
The foreign ministers of Canada Germany, Britain, France and Italy called for Navalny’s release. Lithuania said on Sunday it would ask the EU to swiftly impose new sanctions on Russia. Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said he wanted the bloc to discuss possible sanctions.
Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, called Navalny’s detention “unacceptable” and called for his immediate release.
Canada strongly condemns the arrest of Alexei <a href=”https://twitter.com/navalny?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Navalny</a> upon arrival in Moscow. Russian authorities must immediately release him. This is unacceptable & we will continue to demand an explanation into his poisoning.
Jake Sullivan, one of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s top aides, told Moscow to free Navalny, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter he was deeply troubled by Moscow’s decision to arrest Navalny.
Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, told a news conference that Western countries’ expressions of outrage over the detention were designed to distract their own citizens from domestic problems.
He said the Navalny case had gained artificial resonance in the West and that Moscow was unfazed by potential damage to its image.
“We should probably think about our image, but we’re not young ladies going to a ball,” Lavrov told reporters.