Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has referred to President Vladimir Putin as “Voldemort” in a speech in court as his appeal against his prison sentence was rejected.
A Moscow court upheld Navalny’s nearly three-year prison sentence on Saturday, even as the country faced an order from a top European rights court to free the Kremlin’s most prominent foe.
A few hours later, a judge in a separate case ordered Navalny to pay a fine for defaming a World War II veteran.
During the first court hearing, Navalny urged Russians to stand up to the Kremlin in a fiery speech mixing references to the Bible, Harry Potter and the cartoon Rick and Morty.
“The government’s task is to scare you and then persuade you that you are alone,” he said.
“Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off,” he added, in a reference to Putin.
Navalny said “to live is to risk it all”.
“Otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.”
Navalny was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for violating terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.
Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption crusader and Putin’s most vocal critic, appealed the prison sentence and asked to be released.
The Moscow City Court’s judge on Saturday only slightly reduced his sentence to just over two-and-a-half years in prison, deducting time Navalny spent under house arrest in early 2015 from his sentence.
The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful.
In his speech, Navalny also said he was an atheist before but has come to believe in god, adding that his faith helped him face his challenges.
He said he believed the Bible phrase that those who thirst for righteousness are blessed, and that he felt no regret about deciding to return home to Russia.
“Even though our country is built on injustice and we all constantly face injustice … we also see that millions of people … want righteousness,” Navalny told the court.
His arrest and imprisonment have fuelled a huge wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people.
Asked about the impact of Navalny’s sentence on Russia’s politics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the country’s “rich and multifaceted” political scene will develop regardless of the verdict.
Russia has rejected criticism of Navalny’s arrest and the crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.
In a ruling Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to release Navalny, citing “the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life”.
After losing his appeal, Navalny had a second court hearing on charges of slandering a World War II veteran and was ordered to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles.
Navalny called the 94-year-old veteran and other people featured in a pro-Kremlin video last year “corrupt stooges,” “people without conscience” and “traitors”.
He rejected the slander charges, describing them as part of official efforts to disparage him.