Russia has hit back at growing calls from the international community for the release of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, describing their intervention as an attempt to meddle in Russia's internal affairs.
Condemnation From Several Quarters
Navalny, who has been vocal in his criticism of the Kremlin, was sentenced on Tuesday to three and a half years in a penal colony for violating probation terms. He has labeled the trial an attempt to intimidate the public.
World leaders have been united in their criticism of the sentence and have released statements to this effect. On Wednesday, Australia became the latest country to demand the immediate release of the Russian opposition leader.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said her country is deeply concerned by the 44-year-old's arrest and sentencing. In a statement, she said: "We call for Mr. Navalny's immediate and unconditional release," also expressing reservation at the mistreatment of peaceful protesters and journalists by the Russian government.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a tweet, upbraided the decision to jail Navalny as "pure cowardice", demanding the immediate release of the opposition leader and stating that the ruling failed to meet "the most basic standards of justice".
On her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the conviction as lawless and demanded an end to violence against peaceful protesters in Russia.
"The verdict against Alexei Navalny is far from any rule of law standards. Navalny must be released at once," Merkel was quoted as saying in a tweet by her spokesman.
"Violence against peaceful demonstrators must stop," she stressed.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin dissident's conviction was unacceptable.
"A political disagreement is never a crime. We call for his immediate release. The respect for human rights such as democratic freedom is not negotiable," he is quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has issued a statement warning members of the international community to desist from interfering in the country's internal affairs.