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article imagePutin's arch-foe presses case against Russia in European court

By AFP     Jan 24, 2018 in World

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny took his battle with President Vladimir Putin back to Europe's top rights court Wednesday, complaining of his repeated arrests ahead of elections in March.

Navalny has asked the European Court of Human Rights, based in the French city of Strasbourg, to rule on whether Russia has violated his basic rights by repeatedly detaining him.

"Over the past years I have been jailed at least seven times. Last year I spent two months in a cell for exercising our right to freedom of assembly," Navalny told the 17 judges during the three-hour hearing.

"The probability that this happened 'without political coordination' is as remote as the chances of meeting a dinosaur in this court," he added.

The 41-year-old politician, who has been barred from standing in the March presidential vote, accuses Russia of violating the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to which Moscow is a signatory.

- Crackdown on campaign -

Navalny, who has already called a major protest on Sunday, said Putin's government was "determined to exclude any form of opposition."

Police raided his campaign headquarters in Saint Petersburg this month, one of a series of seizures carried out at his group's offices.

Earlier this week a Moscow court ordered the closure of the foundation behind his political activities, citing irregularities.

But lawyers for the government said Wednesday that Navalny and his supporters had failed to give the authorities prior notice of his protests, adding that he was trying "to make himself look like a victim".

"If a group decides to flout the law, it should not expect to receive any encouragement from this court," Mikhail Galperin said.

In 2013 Navalny was found guilty in an embezzlement case involving an allegedly crooked timber deal and given a five-year suspended sentence that disqualified him from standing for public office.

The European Court of Human Rights condemned the conviction as "manifestly unreasonable", but after a Russian retrial, Navalny was handed the same sentence, a conviction he says was politically motivated.

That verdict prompted officials last month to bar the charismatic opposition leader -- seen by many as the only genuine opposition to Putin -- from running for the presidency.

He has called on voters to boycott the vote, which is expected to return Putin for a fourth term, extending his stint in the Kremlin until 2024.

Posing for selfies after leaving the courtroom, Navalny said his case was important "for all Russians".

"If the European court determines there was political motivation, we will use it as a basis for other lawsuits," he said.

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