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Russia's Alexey Navalny "just a horrible skeleton" in 1st court appearance since prison hunger strike

Putin critic Navalny appears in court
Visibly gaunt Alexei Navalny makes first public appearance since hunger strike 01:29

Moscow — Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny appeared in court on Thursday for the first time in months, and he looked worse for the wear. Attending a hearing in a Moscow court via video link from a prison compound dozens of miles from the capital, the fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin looked thin after a recent hunger strike.

Last week the 44-year-old politician ended his three-week hunger strike after finally being examined by non-prison doctors after weeks demanding independent medical treatment for a number of complaints. 

The hearing on Thursday was on Navalny's appeal of his February conviction on defamation charges for insulting a Russian World War II veteran. 

Russia Navalny
In this photo provided by the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow on April 29, 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is seen on a TV screen gesturing during a hearing on his conviction for defamation. Babuskinsky District Court Press Service via AP

"I am just a horrible skeleton," the shaven-headed Navalny, appearing gaunt on the screen, told the court in which his wife Yulia sat on Thursday. He said his weight had fallen to around 159 pounds, noting he hadn't been that light since around the seventh grade. 

Navalny said he'd requested some carrots and apples from the prison to help him recover from his hunger strike, but hadn't received any.

The Kremlin critic was sentenced earlier this year to two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of a previous suspended sentence. He was arrested in January soon after his return to Moscow from Berlin, where he spent five months recovering from severe poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

October 2020: Alexey Navalny describes the poisoning ordeal he says Vladimir Putin perpetrated 14:00

His arrest sparked a series of mass demonstrations across the country earlier this year, and thousands of people took to the streets again last week in support of the opposition leader.

Russian authorities have denied accusations by Navalny, and the U.S. and its allies, that the government — even Putin himself — was behind the poisoning attack on the president's chief domestic opponent.

"I'd like to say, my dear court, that your king is naked. Already millions of people are screaming about it because it is so obvious," Navalny said in his remarks to the court on Thursday, referring to Putin. 

The court dismissed his appeal against the defamation conviction.

Navalny's organization shuttered

Meanwhile, Navalny's nationwide political anti-corruption network was disbanded ahead of a court ruling to declare it an "extremist" organization, the politician's senior ally Leonid Volkov announced on Thursday. 

The ruling is expected to put all members and supporters of the organization at risk of up to six years in prison.

Putin's prosecutors silence Navalny's groups in sweeping new order shutting them down 02:11

Earlier this week, another Russian court barred Navalny's anti-corruption foundation (FBK) and his network of regional campaign offices from posting online. The organizations are also prohibited from accessing their bank accounts.

Navalny's ally Vladimir Ashurkov, the foundation's former director, who lives in exile outside of Russia, told CBS News earlier this week that he believed the Kremlin was taking such dramatic steps, "because over the years, Navalny and our organization emerged as the most important opponent to Vladimir Putin."

Navalny's team also revealed on Thursday that Russian authorities had apparently opened yet another criminal case against Navalny and two of his key allies, this time for allegedly setting up a non-profit organization that "infringed on the personality and the rights of citizens."

According to legal documents cited by the opposition leader's associates, the case was opened in February. The charges carry a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison.

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