18 Jul 2013

Russian opposition leader Navalny jailed for five years

Foreign Secretary William Hague warns against the “selective application of the rule of law in Russia”, after the jailing of a opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The anti-corruption blogger and mayoral candidate for Moscow was charged with heading a group accused of embezzling 16m roubles ($500,000) worth of timber from state-owned company Kirovles while he worked as an unpaid adviser to the provincial governor in Kirov in 2009.

Judge Sergei Blinov said Mr Navalny had defrauded the timber firm and his co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov was also found guilty of embezzlement.

The trial has been seen as a way to discredit the opposition leader, who has become popular with anti-Putin protsters.

In a statement issued in London following today’s sentence, Mr Hague said: “I am concerned about the sentence handed down by the Kirov court to Alexei Navalny.

“The decision to sentence him for five years has highlighted once again the concerns felt by many about the selective application of the rule of law in Russia. We understand Mr Navalny intends to appeal this judgment.

“I call upon the government of Russia to respect fully the principles of justice and ensure that the rule of law is applied in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way.”

There is no one else, except you. If you are reading this, then you are in fact the resistance – Alexei Navalny

Mr Navalny had long said he expected to be convicted and appeared relaxed and calm in the courtroom as the guilty verdict was delivered.

In a final blog post before leaving Moscow for Kirov on the eve of his sentence, he issued an impassioned plea for anyone reading his words to stand up for the opposition movement.

“You just have to understand: there is no one else except you,” he wrote. “No one is more concerned than you about what is happening in the country and the city. There are no wonderful volunteers who will come and do all the work for you.

“There are no great donors of 500 roubles who will pitch in some cash when you are too lazy to go on the online bank.”

The blog post ends: “No one is in a position to resist stronger than you. It is your duty to the rest, if you realise it; it is the sort of thing that it is impossible to delegate to someone else.

“There is no one else, except you. If you are reading this, then you are in fact the resistance.”

Anti-corruption blogger

In the four years since Mr Navalny began blogging about Russia’s endemic corruption, the 37-year-old lawyer has become the major figure of Russia’s nascent opposition.

Growing support

Former editor-in-chief of the Moscow Bureau of the BBC Konstantin Eggert believes today is the defining moment in Navalny's political career.

He told Channel 4 News: "Today [Navalny] becomes a politician. His prison sentence sanctifies him as a politician. Being in prison is the ultimate prize for any politician in Russia.

"His influence is limited but it is growing. He is a larger than life figure. He is going to grow. There is a very good chance [he] will be prime minister one day.

"The authorities have a very short term view [by throwing opposition leaders in prison]. Their choices are tactical rather than strategic."

His investigations have targeted a wide circle of peoploe loyal to President Vladimir Putin, from members of parliament to state bankers, striking at the core of Putin’s “vertical of power” and threatening to discredit the entire system of governance he has built.

He spearheaded a wave of massive protest rallies that arose in late 2011, riveting crowds of 100,000 or more.

He had also declared himself a candidate for this autumn’s Moscow mayoral election.

The conviction does not immediately nullify his candidacy, and 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.

Regarding his sentence, he wrote: “If Putin wimps out and gives a suspended sentence to an innocent person as a result of an extrajudicial decision – that means ‘I’m lucky.’

“If Putin musters his courage and the sentence will be a real one – ‘I’m not lucky’.”