Alexei Navalny, seen for 1st time since hunger strike, insults Putin in court appearance
Navalny was appearing in a defamation case unrelated to charges behind imprisonment
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "naked, thieving king" on Thursday, looking gaunt but defiant in a courtroom video link from prison, his first public appearance since ending a hunger strike last week.
His remarks on a blurry video piped into a Moscow courtroom came amid new legal pressure on Navalny and his movement. Allies said he faced new criminal charges and they had been forced to disband his network of regional campaign offices, which the authorities are seeking to ban as "extremist."
Navalny, his head shaven, said he had been taken to a bathhouse to look "decent" for the hearing. He undid his prison uniform to reveal a T-shirt that barely hid his thin torso.
"I looked in the mirror. Of course, I'm just a dreadful skeleton," he said, adding that he now weighed 72 kilograms (158 pounds), the same weight as when he was in school.
His court appearance was an appeal hearing against a guilty verdict on a charge of defaming a Second World War veteran. During the video, Navalny, 44, went on the attack against Putin and the Russian justice system. At one point, he interrupted the judge, and was reprimanded.
"I want to tell the dear court that your king is naked," he said of Putin. "Millions of people are already shouting about it, because it is obvious.… His crown is hanging and slipping."
Reiterating allegations of corruption that the Kremlin denies, Navalny said, "Your naked, thieving king wants to continue to rule until the end … Another 10 years will come, a stolen decade will come."
Navalny organizations could be muzzled
Navalny came to prominence with an anti-corruption campaign of caustic videos cataloguing the wealth of senior Russian officials he labelled "swindlers and thieves." He has emerged as Putin's fiercest political rival in an era when mainstream opposition parties have built up only narrow support.
A separate court is considering whether to declare Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and his network of regional campaign offices "extremist," which would give authorities the power to jail activists and freeze bank accounts. That court said on Thursday it would hold its next hearing on May 17.
"Maintaining the work of Navalny's network of headquarters in its current form is impossible," said Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny's close allies, in a YouTube video. "It would immediately … lead to criminal sentences for those who work in the headquarters, who collaborate with them and for those who help them."
Volkov said many of the offices would try to function as independent regional bodies with their own leaders.
Navalny's allies also said a new criminal case had been opened against him for allegedly setting up a non-profit organization that infringed on the rights of citizens. This could not immediately be confirmed.
Navalny is serving a 2 ½-year jail sentence for parole violations on an earlier embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated.
WATCH | Kremlin critic Bill Browder spoke to CBC News last week about Navalny's case:
Last year, Navalny survived an attack with a nerve agent. After recovering in Germany, he was arrested on his return to Russia in January and sentenced the following month.
He declared his hunger strike in prison on March 31 to demand better medical care for leg and back pain. On April 23, he said he would start ending it after getting more medical care. Russia has said he is receiving the same treatment as any other prisoner and accused him of exaggerating his health needs for publicity.
During Thursday's courtroom video appearance, he said he had eaten four spoonfuls of porridge in total on Wednesday. Getting 10 spoonfuls down would be a "breakthrough."
"I've been asking for one little bit of apple for four days, but the question hasn't been resolved yet," he said. "But porridge – as much as you want."