A Russian court has rejected Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s appeal against a nine-year prison sentence. The judgment of March 22 remains unchanged and takes effect immediately, a judge said on Tuesday in Moscow.

This means that Navalny will be transferred to a penal colony with significantly harsher prison conditions. Navalny was sentenced to nine years in prison in March on charges of embezzlement and contempt of court.

Navalny, who was already in prison, took part in the court hearing – behind bars – via video link. Wearing black prisoner’s clothing and a winter jacket, he appeared composed at first and joked about problems with the sound transmission.

He followed the verdict with a grumpy face and didn’t mince his words when he was allowed to speak one last time at the end of the trial: “I despise your court, your system,” he said, and the trial made “no sense”.

“Of course I don’t want to be stuck in a cell,” he said. “I’d rather see my kids grow up.” He called on people to “don’t be afraid.” Being afraid is a “crime against our future,” he added.

The appeal process began last week, but Navalny asked for the hearing to be postponed by a week so that he could meet his family again before being transferred to another penal colony.

The opposition member has been in prison since January 2021 on other allegations. In March, a court ruled that Navalny had used millions of euros in donations paid to his political organizations for personal purposes.

Navalny was arrested in January 2021 after returning from Berlin. In Germany, he spent several months recovering from an attack with a nerve agent, for which he blames the Kremlin. Moscow denies the allegations.

Since his imprisonment, the Russian authorities have cracked down on critical voices and independent media – especially since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Navalny’s most important organizations were banned.