In his first public appearance since ending a weeks-long hunger strike, jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny looked visibly thinner in a court hearing, which he attended via video link.
Thursday’s hearing was linked to Navalny’s appeal against a defamation conviction handed to him in February for allegedly insulting a World War II veteran. He was ordered to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles ($11,500) over the case.
During the hearing, he addressed his wife Yulia, who was in the courtroom. He said his weight in jail had fallen to 72kg (11.3 stones), the same as he weighed in school.
“I was taken to a bania [Russian sauna] yesterday to look good today. I looked at myself – I’m a horrible skeleton. I’m in a horrible shape, as if I’m in seventh grade,” he said.
“If I remove clothing, I will look much worse. Yesterday, I ate four spoons of porridge, today I have the same, tomorrow I will eat six spoons of porridge. I’m waiting until I will eat 10 spoons of porridge per day. It will be a breakthrough.”
The 44-year-old has denounced the slander charges as part of official efforts to disparage him. He also launched an attack on President Vladimir Putin during proceedings.
“I want to say, my dear court, that your king is naked, and more than one little boy is screaming about it,” said Navalny, who was sporting a buzz haircut.
“Already millions of people are screaming about it. Twenty years of incompetent governing have led to the following result; there is a crown slipping from his ears, there are lies on TV, we have spent trillions of rubles and our country continues to slide into poverty.
“Unsurprisingly, economists write letters and say that the last few years should be called a lost decade.”
The latest episode in a series of court battles between Russian officials and Navalny came as the Kremlin critic’s allies announced they were closing their network of campaign offices amid intense pressure from Moscow.
As the Kremlin critic made his court appearance, another court across Moscow was discussing a petition by the prosecutor to ban all his political organisations as “extremist”.
Anticipating the court’s ruling, Navalny’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov announced that some three dozen “Navalny headquarters” were being disbanded, to protect staff and supporters from prosecution.
The offices were set-up in 2017 ahead of Navalny’s attempt to challenge Vladimir Putin for the presidency; he was barred from even joining the race.
On Monday, the Moscow prosecutor suspended all activity by the offices, pending the court decision. The activities of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) have also been restricted.