Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Russian opposition leader jailed

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been convicted of embezzlement (AP)
Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been convicted of embezzlement (AP)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of embezzlement.

The charismatic anti-corruption blogger was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled 16 million rubles (£330,000) of timber from state-owned company Kirovles in 2009 while he worked as an unpaid adviser to the provincial governor in Kirov, about 470 miles east of Moscow.

That was the same year that Navalny, a lawyer, started an anti-corruption blog that attracted a wide following and made him one of the key figures of the nascent opposition to Vladimir Putin and the dominant United Russia party.

Navalny called United Russia "the party of crooks and thieves", a phrase that became a rallying cry.

He was a leader of the wave of massive protest rallies that broke out in late 2011 after a national parliamentary election scarred by allegations of widespread fraud. More recently, he pushed his ambitions by declaring himself a candidate for this autumn's Moscow mayoral election.

The conviction does not immediately nullify his candidacy. That would not happen until his defence team exhausted its appeals, which could take several months. It is unclear whether the conviction would intimidate his supporters or undermine the activists who have coalesced around him.

Navalny had long said he expected to be convicted, and in a final blog post before leaving Moscow for Kirov, he downplayed his personal importance to the wider opposition.

"The most important thing is to muster up the strength, shake off laziness and do something. This doesn't require any leadership as such," he wrote.

Later, Russian prosecutors said they had asked that Navalny be freed pending appeal. Prosecutors made the move as several thousand Navalny supporters gathered outside the Kremlin, chanting "Freedom!" amid thick police cordons. Police detained some of the demonstrators, but did not immediately move to disperse the rally.

The prosecutors' motion may reflect an attempt to soothe public anger and the government's fear that putting Navalny in prison would steal legitimacy from Moscow mayoral elections in which he is running against the Kremlin-backed incumbent.

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