The opposition leader fighting the authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin has found God. Noted atheist Alexei Navalny unveiled his newfound faith during a court appearance after his arrest for speaking out on behalf of democracy in Russia.
The 44-year-old, who is Putin’s most well-known critic, was arrested at Moscow’s international airport while returning from Germany. He had spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on Putin’s government.
On Monday say he has been transferred to a penal colony in the Vladimir region, the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission that defends the rights of prisoners and has access to people in custody, said on its website.
The state news agency TASS specified that Navalny will serve his term in a penal colony east of Moscow.
Earlier this month, a lower court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison for breaking the terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany. His sentence stems from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that Navalny argues was orchestrated by the Putin regime to prevent him from leading the opposition.
In last month’s court hearing, the judge rejected the appeal of his prison sentence.
Navalny used his last court appearance to once again encourage Russians to oppose the Kremlin, including references from the Bible.
“The government’s task is to scare you and then persuade you that you are alone,” he said. “Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off,” he added, in a reference to Vladimir Putin.
He also quoted an American cartoon. “To live is to risk it all, otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.”
But it was not his reference to Western youth culture that was noticed but the famous atheist’s statements on God. Navalny revealed that he is no longer an atheist and believes in God now and finds truth in the Bible. He told the court he believes the words from Matthew 5:6 in which Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed.
“Even though our country is built on injustice and we all constantly face injustice…we also see that millions of people, tens of millions of people, want righteousness,” Navalny said. “They want the righteousness and sooner or later they will have it.”
Hinting at the vice-grip control Putin exerts over every aspect of Russian government and life, Navalny said, “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.”
After his appeal hearing, Navalny also faced a judge over charges of slandering a war veteran and was ordered to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles (about $11,500).
Navalny had been criticizing a pro-Kremlin video at the time, calling a 94-year-old veteran and others “corrupt stooges,” “people without conscience,” and “traitors” for supporting Putin’s regime last year.
At the hearing, Navalny said his accusers “will burn in hell.”
–Dwight Widaman and wire services