How jailed Navalny heard that film about his political activism won Oscar

Lawyer told imprisoned Russian opposition leader about best documentary feature award

Yulia Abrosimova, wife of Alexei Navalny, makes a speech on his behalf at the 95th Academy Awards. AP
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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Monday discovered from prison that a film detailing his poisoning and political activism won the Oscar for best documentary feature.

The politician, 46, was attending a court hearing via video link from prison when his lawyer broke the news about the documentary Navalny, directed by Daniel Roher, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said. She called it “the most remarkable announcement of an [Oscar] win in history”.

Mr Navalny was facing a court hearing in Kovrov, a town near the prison in which he is detained in the Vladimir region east of Moscow, Ms Yarmysh said. President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic participated in the hearing on a complaint he filed against Russian penitentiary officials.

At a briefing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the Oscar win, saying that he has not seen the film and therefore “it wouldn’t make sense to say anything” about it. He added that “Hollywood sometimes does not shun politicising its work”.

Monday's hearing was on one of the many lawsuits the defiant Mr Navalny has filed against prison administrators over what he alleges are breaches of his human rights. Two more hearings are scheduled but have been postponed.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service. AP

The documentary portrays Mr Navalny's career of fighting official corruption, his near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent in 2020 for which he blames the Kremlin, his five-month recuperation in Germany and his return to Moscow in 2021, when he was immediately taken into custody at the airport. He was later sentenced to 30 months in prison and last year was convicted and given another nine-year jail term.

Mr Navalny has faced unrelenting pressure from authorities. He spent several weeks in isolation in a tiny “punishment cell” and last month was placed in a restricted housing unit for six months. He is effectively deprived of phone calls or visits from his family.

At the ceremony on Sunday night in Los Angeles, Roher said he dedicated his Oscar to Mr Navalny and to all political prisoners around the world.

“Alexei, the world has not forgotten your vital message to us all: we must not be afraid to oppose dictators and authoritarianism wherever it rears its head," he said.

Mr Navalny's wife, Yulia, also spoke, saying: "My husband is in prison just for telling the truth. My husband is in prison just for defending democracy. Alexei, I am dreaming of the day you will be free and our country will be free. Stay strong, my love."

His daughter Dasha told reporters at the event that the only way the family was able to stay in touch with him was through letters, although defence lawyers were able to visit him occasionally. His health is deteriorating, she said.

Lyubov Sobol, Mr Navalny's long-time ally, said the documentary's success represented “an important signal that the world sees the efforts to fight for democracy in Russia, the world supports brave and courageous people who have challenged Vladimir Putin and have been fighting the unequal battle with evil, which is now tormenting the entire world and Ukraine in the first place”.

“It’s a very important victory and I was unspeakably glad,” Ms Sobol said.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 6:05 PM