ALEXEI Navalny's appeal against his prison sentence has been rejected in Moscow – despite an order to free him by the European Court of Human Rights.
A lower court sentenced the Russian opposition leader earlier this month to two years and eight months in prison for violating his probation relating to a 2014 conviction for embezzlment.
The leading critic of Vladimir Putin was arrested for failing to report to police while he battled for his life in Germany after a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin – a claim the regime denies.
Anti-corruption crusader Navalny, 44, appealed the prison sentence and asked to be released.
Yet, the Moscow City Court's judge today only slightly reduced his sentence to just over two and-half years in prison, ruling that a month-and-half Navalny spent under house arrest in early 2015 will be deducted from his term.
Speaking before the verdict, Navalny referenced the Bible as well as Harry Potter and the animated series Rick and Morty as he urged Russians to resist pressure from the authorities and challenge the Kremlin to build a fairer and more prosperous country.
He said: “The government's task is to scare you and then persuade you that you are alone.
"Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off”, he added, in a reference to President Putin.
“To live is to risk it all. Otherwise, you're just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.”
Navalny also addressed the judge and the prosecutor, arguing that they could have a much better life in a new Russia.
“Just imagine how wonderful life would be without constant lying. Imagine how great it would be to work as a judge when no one would be able to call you and give you directions what verdicts to issue,” he said.
Navalny's 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.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin critic has overtaken Putin as Russia's most talked-about politician for the first time, according to new analysis.
The 44-year-old was said to have been mentioned on social media – 1.3 million times more than Putin after being detained at a Moscow airport on January 17.
Russia has rejected Western criticism of Navalny's arrest and the crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.
In a ruling on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to release the politician, citing the risk to the applicant's life.
The Strasbourg-based court noted that Navalny has contested Russian authorities' argument that they had taken sufficient measures to safeguard his life and well-being in custody following the nerve agent attack.
However, Moscow has rebuffed the court's demand, describing the ruling as unlawful and inadmissible meddling in Russias affairs.
In the past, Moscow has abided by the ECHRs rulings awarding compensations to Russian citizens who have contested verdicts, but it never faced a demand by the European court to set a convict free.
Later on Saturday, Navalny will also face proceedings in a separate case on charges of defaming a World War II veteran.
Navalny, who called the veteran, 94, and other people featured in a pro-Kremlin video “corrupt stooges, people without conscience and traitors”, has rejected the slander charges and described them as part of official efforts to disparage him.
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