A Russian court on Friday handed Aleksei A. Navalny, the jailed opposition campaigner, a new, 19-year sentence on charges of supporting “extremism” and ordered him imprisoned under the harshest conditions. The sentence demonstrated the widening scope of repression under President Vladimir V. Putin and threatened to further isolate his most cutting domestic critic.
Mr. Navalny was already serving a 9-year sentence east of Moscow on fraud charges when Russian authorities added additional cases against him, in what his supporters have characterized as a savage campaign to banish him from Russia’s public sphere and erode his health in confinement.
In the case that ended Friday, Mr. Navalny, 47, was sentenced for creating an extremist organization and other crimes, and was ordered imprisoned in one of Russia’s “special regime” colonies, known for their harsh treatment of inmates. His supporters have warned that confinement in that environment for such a long sentence represents a significant threat to his life.
The new 19-year sentence can be served concurrently to Mr. Navalny’s existing sentences, according to his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh. Mr. Navalny has said that he soon could receive yet another sentence, of 10 years, on a separate terrorism charge that Russian authorities have brought against him during his imprisonment.
“The number doesn’t matter,” Mr. Navalny said in a statement after the sentence was handed down. “I understand very well that, like many political prisoners, I am serving a life sentence. Where life is measured by the duration of my life or the life span of this regime.”
In his statement, Mr. Navalny urged his followers not to give up, warning that Russian authorities were taking these draconian actions to frighten them and deprive them of the will to resist. The liberal Russian opposition has been fractured, sent into exile and challenged by infighting as a result of Mr. Putin’s increased repression.
“You are being forced to surrender your Russia without a fight to a band of traitors, thieves and scoundrels who have seized power,” Mr. Navalny said. “Putin should not achieve his goals. Don’t lose the will to resist.”
Earlier this summer, Mr. Navalny had remarked in a social media post about the absurdity of the mercenary boss Yevgeny V. Prigozhin going free after he led an aborted mutiny against the Russian defense leadership, even as Mr. Navalny himself faced the prospect of a severe sentence for “extremism.”
The sentence was met with condemnation in Washington and other Western capitals, now home to many supporters of Mr. Navalny, many of whom began leaving Russia even before Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“The United States strongly condemns Russia’s conviction of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny on politically motivated charges,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “The Kremlin cannot silence the truth. Navalny should be released.”
Mr. Navalny initially rose to prominence in Russia as a blogger carrying out investigations that exposed the country’s corrupt elite.
In the aftermath of parliamentary elections in 2011, he rocketed to global fame, leading a vast street protest movement against what he called the “crooks and thieves” in charge of Russia, emerging as a charismatic speaker and a clear threat to Mr. Putin’s rule.
For a period of time, he and his supporters were allowed to operate in Russia.
Though Russian television channels wouldn’t put him on air and Mr. Putin refused to mention him by name, Mr. Navalny amassed thousands of young followers, particularly in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He mounted a bid for Moscow mayor in 2013, earning nearly a third of the vote in Russia’s biggest city despite being barred from state media and hampered in other ways.
But when he tried to run for president in 2018, he was formally barred from becoming a candidate. He was poisoned in 2020 during a visit to Siberia, a signal that he and his supporters would be prevented from operating in Russia as a campaign of repression dramatically intensified.
Mr. Navalny nearly died after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent, an episode that he and Western officials have described as an assassination attempt by the Kremlin. The Russian government has denied involvement.
While receiving medical treatment in Germany, he told the German publication Der Spiegel that he “would not give Putin the gift of not retuning to Russia,” saying he had no desire to be an opposition figure in exile. He returned the following year to Russia, where waiting security forces detained him.
His group, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, was subsequently outlawed — declared an “extremist” outfit — and the Russian authorities began to crack down even more severely on its activities.
Two of Mr. Navalny’s associates were sentenced in mid-July to prison terms of seven and a half years and two and a half years for participating in the organization. At least 15 activists who worked with Mr. Navalny face similar charges, according to Ms. Yarmysh.
Many members of the group have gone into exile, where they have continued its work, publishing investigations into high-ranking Russian officials, including Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu and Mr. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group.
Friday’s hearing represented the latest Kafka-esque episode in the Russian opposition campaigner’s persecution.
Mr. Navalny, thin and dressed in a prison uniform, filed into a makeshift courtroom set up on the grounds of the penal colony, where the trial had been held in closed-door hearings.
He was surrounded by his lawyers and his co-defendant, Daniel Kholodny, a technician who once helped run Mr. Navalny’s YouTube channel and who received an eight-year sentence in a standard prison.
Journalists who arrived at the proceedings were not allowed into the makeshift courtroom and instead were ushered into a separate room to hear a live translation of the judge’s decision.
But the sound was of such poor quality that most of the journalists left without having been able to hear the sentence, and even Mr. Navalny’s team outside the courtroom struggled to understand what was happening.
His parents tried to attend the proceedings but were denied entry, according to Mr. Navalny’s organization, which said that his parents have not seen their son for more than a year.
Acquittals are extremely rare in Russian courts, especially against opposition figures. Mr. Navalny and his supporters had predicted a harsh sentence, especially given that the Kremlin has banned criticism of its war in Ukraine, stepped up its jailing of opposition voices and shuttered independent news media outlets.
Before the war, a two-decade sentence for what is essentially dissent would have been unusually harsh. But the ruling was the latest in a string of extreme judgments, which have grown more common since Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
In April, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a dissident with Russian and British citizenship and a contributor to The Washington Post, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for treason, spreading “fake” information and participating in an “undesirable organization.” Mr. Kara-Murza lost an appeal of the ruling this week.
Alina Lobzina and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.