Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to five years in jail for theft on Thursday, an unexpectedly tough punishment which his supporters said proved President Vladimir Putin was a dictator ruling by repression, Reuters reports.
Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who emerged last year as the opposition’s de facto leader in the biggest protests against Putin since he took power in 2000. Technically Navalny should have 10 days to file an appeal. After that, the court will have 30 days to begin considering it. If the appeal is revoked before Sept. 8th, as expected, Navalny will be barred from running in the election for Moscow’s Mayor as he was planning to do against Putin’s candidate. And he will not be able to run for president in 2018 either. But the judge said the conviction could not be suspended and Navalny was immediately jailed.
The EU expressed concern about the sentence and said that the charges against him have not been substantiated during the trial.
The Spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, issued the following statement:
“The High Representative is concerned about the guilty verdict and the prison sentences handed down today by the Kirov Court against Alexey Navalny, member of the Russian opposition coordination council and anti-corruption campaigner, and his co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov. The charges against them have not been substantiated during the trial.
Civil society has a vital role to play in exposing wrongdoing and defending human rights, and it should not be stifled.
This outcome, given the procedural shortcomings, raises serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in Russia. The High Representative hopes that their sentences will be reconsidered in the appeal process.”
Navalny was accused of stealing $490,000 from a state timber company. Judge Sergei Blinov from Kirov, said on Thursday that he had found the 37-year-old critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin guilty of colluding to steal money in a timber deal while acting as an unpaid adviser to the local government.
“The court, having examined the case, has established that Navalny organised a crime and … the theft of property on a particularly large scale,” the judge said.
Navalny stood defiant and despite the judge orders to stop it, he was sending tweets using his cellphone during the tedious session. “Ok. Don’t miss me. And most importantly, do not be iddle.” And in a reference to the Russian government, “The toad will not remove itself from the oil pipeline.”
This is coming after another polemic trial, the one against the already dead lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky by a Russian court earlier this month.
Magnitsky died during pre-trial detention after accusing interior ministry officials of corruption.
The tax evasion case against Magnitsky was criticised by legal experts and Western governments, including the US, which passed the “Sergei Magnitsky Act” this year.
The act imposed a visa ban and froze the assets of 18 officials implicated in the lawyer’s death.
The legislation infuriated Moscow, which in retaliation passed legislation prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children, Al Jazeera reports.
Russian Court Convicts Opposition Leader New York Times