The world has been captivated by the unfolding case of Russian anti-corruption leader, Alexei Navalny, as the trial against him progressed in recent weeks in Moscow. Navalny, an active anti-corruption activist, has been jailed for 5 years this week, on charges of embezzlement, after being accused of helping to steal 16 million rubles (around $500,000) from a state-run timber company. The case had been closed by local investigators years before for lack of evidence but was reopened last summer for what many have argued were openly political reasons. Navalny had denied the charges, saying the trial was politically motivated, and the world has erupted in reactions following his sentencing…
In recent years, Navalyn has emerged as perhaps Putin’s greatest opposition, after he started blogging in 2008 about allegations of corruption at some of Russia’s big state-controlled firms, and famously called Putin’s United Russia party “”party of crooks and thieves”. Following Russia’s controversial 2011 parliamentary poll, Navalny inspired mass protests against the Kremlin, and was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days. The following year in October 2012, Navalny won the most votes in a poll to choose opposition leadership. His trial began in April of this year, and just prior to his conviction, Navalny announced his intention to run as a candidate for the Moscow mayoral elections.
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) July 19, 2013
Many have argued that Navalny’s conviction is purely politically motivated, a viewpoint echoed by Anti-Putin activist and former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov who has said the trial was “completely fabricated from start to finish, and even the judge could not say what the reason for the crime was”. Many are also not surprised, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky “beacon of freedom in Russiaexplains,
“The guilty verdict on 18 July was inevitable and predictable, and the subsequent release on bail makes little difference. In Russia, there is nothing unusual about finding political opponents of the regime guilty of criminal offenses…until we realise that the trials of Navalny, Bolotnaya, and hundreds of thousands of other guiltlessly convicted people are our trials, they are just going to keep on locking us up, one at a time. Or in groups, if they whip up a charge of mass disturbance or a criminal conspiracy scheme to sell all the oil, timber or mail.”
Media sources and politicians Russia have painted very different pictures of Navalny, with some calling him beacon of freedom in Russia, with many newspapers praising Navalny, and branding the Russian government as making an example of Navalny as a warning for those who speak out. While others like Eduard Limonov, another opposition figure, is critical of Mr Navalny, however, saying that Navalny comes from “a pretty murky environment where people happily forgot about the line between legal and illegal.”
Navalny, reportedly in very good spirits, and prepared for the sentence he received, tweeted immediately after the verdict, saying, “So that’s it. Don’t get bored without me. Most importantly, don’t sit around doing nothing. The toad won’t get off the oil pipe by itself.”
Ладно. Вы тут не скучайте без меня. А главное – не бездельничайте, жаба сама себя с нефтяной трубы не скинет.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) July 18, 2013
Nevertheless, news of Navalny’s conviction were met with mass protests in Moscow and multiple Russian cities, leading to Navalny being granted bail, but only for a day.
— euronews (@euronews) July 18, 2013
In addition to national protests, the global reaction to Navalny’s verdict and imprisonment has echoed concerns about Russia’s rule of law. Concerns which the EU’s Catherine Ashton addressed in her statement:
“The High Representative is concerned about the guilty verdict and the prison sentences handed down today by the Kirov Court against Alexey avalny, 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. 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.”
Likewise, the U.S. reiterated similar concerns in their statement, saying:
“We are very disappointed by the conviction and sentencing of opposition leader Aleksey Navalniy and his co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov, to lengthy prison terms for alleged embezzlement by a court in the city of Kirov. Throughout the case we have expressed our concern about its apparent political motivation. We remain troubled with the failure to respect the rule of law or to ensure the fair trial guarantees required by international law.”
Navalny’s trial may be over now, but the retaliatory trial of the Russian government may be just beginning…
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