The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has called for the "immediate" release of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, a demand quickly rejected by Russian officials.
"On February 16, a Chamber of seven judges of the Court decided, in the interests of the parties and the proper conduct of the proceedings before it, to indicate to the government of Russia, under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, to release the applicant (Navalny)," the Strasbourg-based court said in its ruling, posted on Navalny's website on February 17.
"This measure shall apply with immediate effect," it added.
Russian Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko told journalists that the court's demand was "unreasonable and unlawful," claiming there were “no legal grounds” for Navalny’s release from custody.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the ECHR of "pressure" on Russia and "interference" in the country's domestic affairs.
However, Navalny's lawyer said her client "should be immediately released from custody."
"There is a clear order of the European court, which the authorities are obliged to comply with," Olga Mikhailova told the Novaya gazeta newspaper.
Navalny, 44, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been treated for a nerve-agent poisoning he says was ordered by Putin. The Kremlin denies it had any role in the attack.
Navalny called an initial court hearing into his arrest a "mockery of justice," while his detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking part in street rallies on January 23 and 31.
Police cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny's political allies behind bars and detaining thousands more -- sometimes violently -- as they gathered on the streets.
A Russian court on February 2 ruled that Navalny was guilty of violating the terms of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case that he -- and the ECHR -- has called unlawful and arbitrary. The judge ruled that he violated parole conditions while recovering from the near-fatal poisoning in Germany.
The court converted the sentence to 3 1/2 years in prison. Given credit for time already spent in detention, the court said Navalny must serve another two years and eight months behind bars.