Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny cracked jokes about Moscow’s “naked party” in his first court appearance since he was transferred to an Arctic penal colony.
The prominent critic of Vladimir Putin appeared by video link from the “Polar Wolf” prison but a judge rejected his latest challenge against his treatment.
Mr Navalny is serving prison sentences totalling more than 30 years for charges that he claims are politically motivated.
His supporters raised the alarm last month when he disappeared from the prison in Melekhovo, east of Moscow, where he had been held.
After an arduous three-week journey by road and rail he resurfaced in the “Polar Wolf” penal colony, where those convicted of the most serious crimes are kept, with harsh winters and temperatures expected to reach lows of -28C (-18.4F).
During his remote court appearance on Wednesday, he drew laughter from the judge when he asked on the video call whether the Melekhovo colony had thrown a party to celebrate his departure, and whether it had included karaoke.
He later asked if the Melekhovo prison department had staged a naked party – a reference to a gathering of scantily clad celebrities in Moscow last month that caused a national scandal.
With Russia at war in Ukraine, the party with its “almost naked” dress code did not go down well with authorities, with Mr Putin himself reportedly unamused.
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Mr Navalny was praised by Russia’s disparate opposition for returning to the country in 2021 from Germany, where he was treated for what Western tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent.
He says he was targeted in Siberia in August 2020 with novichok – the same substance used in the Salisbury poisonings – but the Kremlin denies trying to kill him and said there is no evidence to support his claims.
His supporters cast him as a future leader of Russia, though it is unclear how much popular support Mr Navalny actually has inside Russia.
As a prisoner, Mr Navalny cannot run for office in the upcoming elections.