The decision is likely to inflame anger among Navalny’s supporters, as tens of thousands of Russians have turned out for protests over the past two weekends, many demanding the activist’s release. His allies had already called for another round of nationwide demonstrations this weekend.
The court on Tuesday ruled that while Navalny was out of the country, he violated probation from a 2014 embezzlement case in which he had received a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence and five years of probation. Navalny describes the case politically motivated.
His suspended sentence will now be replaced with a prison term. The judge took into account the 11 months Navalny had already spent under house arrest as part of the decision.
His team in Moscow criticized the ruling as Putin’s “personal revenge” and called on supporters to gather in Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin. “This is Vladimir Putin’s personal revenge. For investigating corruption. For having survived after poisoning. For exposing the FSB killers. For not being scared and returning to Russia,” the team said on Twitter.
The verdict also sparked condemnation abroad. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken called on the Russian government to “immediately and unconditionally release” Navalny. The UK, Germany and others issued similar statements.
Navalny tears into Putin
As he listened to the judge read out a lengthy verdict, Navalny drew a heart on the glass box he was confined in for his wife, Yulia Navalnya, who stood near him.
Earlier, he had ridiculed allegations that he could have better informed parole officers of his whereabouts while comatose, repeatedly being told by the judge to stop speaking and to the objections of prosecutors.
“Can you explain to me how else I was supposed to fulfill the terms of my probation and notify where I am?” he said from his glass enclosure.
A prison service representative responded by asking why he had not provided documents to explain the serious reasons that prevented him from showing up for inspections.
“Coma?” Navalny shot back. “Why are you sitting here and telling the court you didn’t know where I was? I fell into a coma, then I was in the ICU, then in rehabilitation. I contacted my lawyer to send you a notice. You had the address, my contact details. What else could I have done to inform you?” he said.
“The President of our country said live on air he let me go to get treatment in Germany and you didn’t know that too?”
In a separate outburst, Navalny described Putin as a “little thieving man in his bunker” who “doesn’t want me to set foot on the ground in Russia.”
“The reason for this is the hatred and fear of one person who is hiding in the bunker. I’ve offended him so deeply by the fact that I’ve survived,” Navalny charged.
When a prosecutor tried to object, Navalny snapped back: “I don’t need your objections.”
“He can pretend he is this big politician, the world leader, but now my main offense to him is that he will go down in history as Putin the Poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise, and there will be Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants,” Navalny added.
“He is not engaging in geopolitics, he holds meetings on how to smear underwear with chemical weapons.”
Tuesday’s hearing opened under a heavy security presence, with riot police securing the court building and cordoning off the general area with police vehicles, trucks and vans. Nearby streets were open but closed to pedestrians and protesters with barricades.
CNN reporters witnessed police detaining dozens of people outside the court before the hearing had begun. By the time the verdict was announced, more than 360 people had been detained in Moscow, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
Navalny’s defense lawyers argued the prison service was well aware of Navalyny’s whereabouts as it received a notice from him in early December. His lawyers also presented a letter from Berlin’s Charite Clinic showing that he was in rehabilitation up until his return to Russia.
On Sunday, protesters across the country were met with the harshest show of force by Russian security services in years. More than 5,000 people were detained in at least 85 cities, according to OVD-Info, a record since 2011 protests. Navalny led mass protests in 2017-18 against Putin’s government.
“Yulia, they show you on TV and keep talking about your radical behavior. Such a bad girl, I’m proud of you,” Navalny said shortly before his hearing began.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier that Putin was not planning on following Navalny’s hearing Tuesday, and was instead meeting with “teachers who are teaching the future generation of Russia.”
CNN’s Anna Chernova and Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.