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World News

Russian opposition leader quotes Sermon on the Mount before court rejects appeal

by Premier Journalist

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny quoted Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in his final argument before a court rejected the top Kremlin critic's appeal over his prison sentence.

The Moscow City Court on Saturday turned down his appeal over his prison sentence for violating the terms of his probation, while recuperating in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning which he blames on the Kremlin.

A Moscow City Court judge reduced the sentence from two years and eight months to just over two and a half years. It's now likely he will be shipped off to a remote penal colony.

In a final argument before the verdict was delivered Mr Navalny quoted Jesus' Sermon of the Mount.

He said he believed the Bible phrase that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, and that he felt no regret about deciding to return home to Russia.

Navalny said he was an atheist before but has come to believe in God, adding that his faith helped him face his challenges.

He also urged Russians to resist pressure from authorities and challenged the Kremlin to build a fairer and more prosperous country.

"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 Mr Putin.

"To live is to risk it all," he said, citing Rick And Morty. "Otherwise, you're just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you."

Later on Saturday another judge also convicted Navalny on charges of slandering a Second World War veteran and ordered him to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles (about £8,200).

Navalny, who called the 94-year-old veteran and other people featured in a pro-Kremlin video last year "corrupt stooges", "people without conscience" and "traitors", has rejected the slander charges and described them as part of official efforts to disparage him.

The 44-year-old Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader and Mr Putin's most vocal critic, was arrested on January 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from the poisoning.

His sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction which Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful.

Navalny has been held in Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina prison, but Russian news reports said that after losing his appeal, he would likely be sent to a prison in the western part of Russia within the next few days to serve out his sentence.

His arrest and imprisonment have fuelled a huge wave of protests across Russia.

Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.

Asked about the impact of Navalny's prison sentence on Russia's politics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the country's "rich and multifaceted" political scene will develop regardless of the verdict.

Russia has rejected Western criticism of Navalny's arrest and the crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.

Additional Reporting PA

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