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MOSCOW: A Russian court will deliver its verdict on Friday in the trial of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is facing extremism charges that could keep him behind bars for decades.

In his closing statement to the court, the 47-year-old criticised Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which was followed by an unprecedented crackdown on critics of President Vladimir Putin’s government.

Russia was “floundering in a pool of either mud or blood,” Navalny said.

“Around it lie tens of thousands of people killed in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century,” he told the court.

Prosecutors have requested a jail term of 20 years on charges that include the financing of extremist activity, publicly inciting extremist activities and “rehabilitating Nazi ideology”.

Navalny is serving a nine-year prison sentence on embezzlement charges that his supporters see as punishment for his political work.

The feisty government critic built a huge following on social media with videos exposing the alleged corruption of the Russian elite, and mobilised massive anti-government protests.

He was arrested in 2021 on his arrival in Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on the Kremlin.

The trial is being held behind closed doors at the IK-6 penal colony, a maximum security prison some 250 kilometres (155 miles) east of Moscow where Navalny is jailed.

Punishment cell

Navalny’s last days before the verdict will be spent in a punishment cell, where he is regularly kept over minor infringements of prison rules, his spokesperson said.

In all, he has spent almost 200 days in the cell, according to his team, which has denounced harassment from prison authorities.

Navalny said prison officials forced him to share a cell with a sickly inmate and subjected him and other prisoners to “torture by Putin”, making them listen to the Russian president’s speeches.

He has also complained of health problems and suffering weight major loss since being jailed in a strict regime penal colony.

Prosecutors have requested Navalny serve his additional sentence in an even more restrictive, special regime prison.

In April, Navalny said he could be separately judged over terrorism charges and face life in prison.

His campaign offices around the country were declared extremist organisations in 2021 by authorities, putting employees, volunteers and supporters at greater risk of prosecution.

Over the summer two heads of regional offices, Lilia Chanysheva and Vadim Ostanin, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half and nine years respectively on extremism charges.

Thousands of Russians have been detained for protesting against Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, and some of the most high-profile activists including Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin are now behind bars.

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