MOSCOW – A Russian court on Saturday cleared the way for the possible transfer of opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny to the country’s penal colony system. This is the latest move by the authorities to silence the man who has become the country’s most vocal critic of President Vladimir V Putin.
The court denied Mr Navalny’s final possible appeal prior to such a transfer. However, it remains unclear whether or when he will leave his cell in a maximum security prison in Moscow. He could be held there for further court appearances on other pending legal matters.
Mr Navalny was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he was treated with a nerve agent last year for near-fatal poisoning – an act he and the Western government charged the Kremlin. He returned knowing that returning home would almost certainly land him in jail, a challenge that led to mass protests in the streets in support of him.
The verdict, which was awaited, upheld Mr Navalny’s sentence of more than two years and put Russia on a collision course with Western nations that could impose additional sanctions on Moscow. On Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights, whose jurisdiction is recognized by Russia, ruled that Mr Navalny must be released from prison immediately.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov denied this request, describing the decision of the Strasbourg-based court as “a serious attempt to intervene in Russia’s internal legal affairs”.
In his final argument in court on Saturday, Mr. Navalny quoted from the Bible that the truth would triumph. He also told his followers not to feel abandoned.
“Our government is trying to convince people that they are all alone,” he said.
Last month, Mr Navalny’s allies organized two nationwide protests in his support that drew tens of thousands to the streets. The police arrested thousands.
The poisoning, condemnation and crackdown on demonstrators signaled Putin a linchpin for a tougher domestic policy. Mr Navalny had been detained many times before, but only briefly in Moscow, and he was never sent to a penal colony.
According to the Russian criminal justice system, transferring an inmate to the penal colonies is a lengthy travel process with a specialized prisoner train. It can begin anytime after a court dismissed the first appeal against a conviction that took place on Saturday.
The journey can take weeks, with stops at transfer prisons, where inmates are generally not allowed to contact lawyers or family members. Their destination sometimes remains unknown until they arrive.
Mr Navalny can petition the European Court of Human Rights because his request for his release has gone unheeded. Although the court cannot legally force Russia to comply with its decision, the dispute could escalate to the European Council, the political body that includes the heads of state and government of the member states of the European Union. This could potentially lead to the expulsion or withdrawal of Russia from this group.
It would be a major breach. Russia joined the Council in 1996 and signaled an end to the division of Europe during the Cold War on human rights issues.
Andrew E. Kramer contributed to the coverage.