Foreign Minister Marise Payne Payne demands ‘immediate, unconditional’ release of Kremlin critic

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has demanded Putin critic Alexei Navalny be granted an “immediate and unconditional release” from a Russian jail.

Mr Navalny was sentenced on Wednesday to nearly three years for alleged parole violations, turning a suspended 2014 sentence into actual jail time.

The jailing of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic was likely to prompt further unrest after thousands of Russians took part in pro-democracy demonstrations over the past two weekends.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the federal government was “deeply concerned” by the development.

RELATED: Russian police arrest more than 5000 in crackdown on Alexei Navalny protesters

“We call for Mr Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release,” she said.

Mr Navalny’s original conviction was deemed “unlawful” and “politically motivated” by the European Court of Human Rights.

His arrest prompted mass demonstrations across Russia, with law enforcement detaining more than 5000 protesters.

PEN America, an advocacy group for the free press, estimated 80 journalists were arrested over the weekend during the ongoing protests.

Ms Payne lashed the crackdown, saying “peaceful protesters” had been targeted by the Russian regime.

“We call for their release without delay. Australia supports all people’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” she said.

Mr Navalny was detained upon arrival to Russia in January after surviving a poisoning attack at a Russian airport in August.

He blamed the Kremlin for the attack, which follows multiple critics of the regime being poisoned over the past two decades.

Ms Payne reaffirmed Australia’s call for the poisoning to be “thoroughly and transparently” investigated.

The Russian regime has denied responsibility for the attack.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has backed the government’s call for Mr Navalny’s immediate release.

“We expect Russia to comply with its international human rights obligations, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” she said in a tweet.

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