Russian prosecutors asked a court to sentence imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny to 20 years in prison on extremism charges, his ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Thursday.

According to Mr Zhdanov, the trial against Navalny, which went on behind closed doors in the prison where the politician is serving another lengthy sentence, is scheduled to conclude with a verdict on August 4.

In his closing statement released on Thursday by his team, Navalny criticised Russian authorities as being governed by “bargaining, power, bribery, deception, treachery … and not law.”

Navalny said: “Anyone in Russia knows that a person who seeks justice in a court of law is completely vulnerable. The case of that person is hopeless.”

Russia Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a TV screen as he appears in a videolink from prison during a hearing at the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow (Alexander Zemlianichenko, File/AP/PA)

Navalny, 47, is President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe who exposed official corruption and organised major anti-Kremlin protests. He was arrested in January 2021 upon returning to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

The authorities sentenced him to two and a half years in prison for parole violations and then to another nine years on charges of fraud and contempt of court.

The politician is currently serving his sentence in a maximum-security prison east of Moscow. He has spent months in a tiny one-person cell, also called a “punishment cell,” for purported disciplinary violations such as an alleged failure to properly button his prison clothes, properly introduce himself to a guard or to wash his face at a specified time.

Navalny’s allies have accused prison authorities of failing to provide him with proper medical assistance and voiced concern about his health.

The new charges relate to the activities of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and statements by his top associates. His allies said the charges retroactively criminalise all the foundation’s activities since its creation in 2011.

Navalny has rejected all the charges against him as politically motivated and has accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him behind bars for life.

One of his associates — Daniel Kholodny — was relocated from a different prison to face trial alongside him. The prosecution has asked to sentence Kholodny to 10 years in prison.

The trial against the two began a month ago and went along swiftly by Russian standards, where people often spend months, if not years, awaiting for their verdict. It was unusually shielded from public attention and Navalny’s lawyers have not offered any comments on the proceedings.

Navalny, in his social media posts, occasionally offered a glimpse of what was going on with his case. In one such post, the politician revealed that a song by a popular Russian rapper praising him was listed as evidence in the case files, and claimed that he made the judge and bailiffs laugh out loud as the song was played during a court hearing.

In another, he said that the case files linked him to US mogul Warren Buffet.

In his closing statement, Navalny referred to the recent short-lived armed rebellion by the fighters of Russia’s private military company Wagner, after which their chief and the leader of the mutiny, Yevgeny Prigozhin, walked free, even though a number of Russian soldiers were killed by his troops.

“Those who were declared traitors to their motherland and betrayers, in the morning killed several Russian army officers as the entire Russia watched in astonishment, and by lunch agreed on something with someone and went home,” Navalny said.

“Thus, law and justice in Russia were once again put in their place. And that place is not prestigious. One sure can’t find them in court,” the politician said.