Russian opposition leader sentenced
Embezzlement case nets five-year term
KIROV, Russia – Alexei Navalny, a charismatic and creative Russian opposition leader who exposed high-level corruption and mocked the Kremlin, was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement on Thursday, in a verdict that set off street protests and drew condemnation from the West.
The Moscow mayoral candidate was led from the court in handcuffs and bused to a jail. Soon afterward, in an unexpected development, prosecutors asked that he be kept free pending appeal.
Several thousand opposition supporters gathered just outside the Kremlin to protest Navalny’s conviction and sentence.
The request to have him released during his appeal could be an attempt by officials to soothe public anger and to lend legitimacy to September’s mayoral race, which a Kremlin-backed incumbent is expected to win.
Navalny, a popular blogger and corruption-fighting lawyer, rose to rock star status among the opposition during a series of massive protests in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin’s re-election to a third presidential term in March 2012.
Sentencing Navalny is the latest move in a multipronged crackdown on dissent that followed Putin’s inauguration, including arrests of opposition activists and repressive legislation that sharply increased fines for participants in unsanctioned protests and imposed tough new restrictions on nongovernment organizations.
The conviction galvanized the opposition, which has been increasingly cornered by the Kremlin’s crackdown and weakened by internal rifts. A few hours after the verdict, several thousand activists gathered on a central avenue near Red Square, clapping hands and chanting “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!”
Police rounded up several dozen demonstrators but didn’t disperse the rally.
Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled $500,000 worth of timber from a state-owned company in 2009.
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