Russian opposition protest leader and notorious critic of President Vladmir Putin — Aleksei Navalny — has been found guilty of corruption on a large scale. Shock waves made their way throughout Russia when the anti-corruption blogger was sentenced to five years in jail for charges of embezzlement. Protests and riot-police flooded the streets as the government received sharp criticism from those who believe this to be a politically driven case.
Here are the facts you need to know about Aleksei Navalny’s controversial run-in with the law.
1. Supporters Believe Putin is Trying to Shut Down a Political Enemy
The harsh ruling of the court was called an “obvious attempt” to “shut down a foe” of President Vladimir Putin and “intimidate other opposition activists.” Navalny has denied all charges and maintained that he is innocent.
In 2010, Navalny became the unofficial leader of the protest movement that brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets. They were the biggest anti-government demonstrations of the Vladimir Putin years.
2. He was Accused of Embezzlement
In 2012, three embezzlement and fraud accusations were brought against Navalny by Russian federal authorities. All three have been vigorously denied by Navalny.
The opposition leader acted as the unpaid adviser to the governor of the Kirov region, who was accused stealing money with unofficial commissions for contracts with a state-owned timber company. State prosecutors charged Navalny being involved with this scheme and attempting to steal at least 16 million roubles ($494,000) from a timber firm when he was advising the governor.
3. He Was Running for Mayor
Navalny had declared himself a candidate for this fall’s Moscow mayoral election, but his chief of staff, told The Associated Press they agreed he would drop out of the race if he was sentenced to prison.
4. He Called Putin’s Party “the Party of Crooks and Thieves”
In a fearless act, Navalny nicknamed the dominant United Russia party “the party of crooks and thieves,” a phrase that became a rallying cry for the opposition. The recent ruling against the notorious opposition leader comes as the opposition suffers under a wave of Kremlin attempts to shut down NGOs and prosecute protesters. In his closing remarks in today’s trial, Navalny did not waver from his strong opinions:
“We will destroy this feudal society that is robbing all of us,” he raged.If somebody thought that on hearing the threat of six years in prison I was going to run away abroad or hide somewhere, they were mistaken. I cannot run away from who I am. I have nothing else but this, and I don’t want to do anything else but to help my country. To work for my fellow citizens. This can’t go on forever, a situation in which 140 million people in one of the biggest and richest countries in the world are subjugated by a handful of worthless monsters.They are not even oligarchs, who built up their wealth through shrewdness or wisdom. They are a bunch of former Komsomol activists, turned democrats, turned patriots, who grabbed everything into their own hands.”
5. Aleksei Has Been Recognized as a Political Prisoner
Russian Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized Aleksei Navalny as a political prisoner. Similarly, the United States and European Union expressed concern over the conviction, saying it raised questions about the rule of law in Russia and Putin’s treatment of opponents.
6. The U.S Ambassador Tweeted About It
We are deeply disappointed in the conviction of @Navalny and the apparent political motivations in this trial.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) July 18, 2013
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul posted on Twitter: “We are deeply disappointed in the conviction of Navalny and the apparent political motivations in this trial.”
7. Protesters Who Support Him Have Been Detained by Police
Two people were detained in a small protest in Kirov. At least 3,000 gathered near the Kremlin in Moscow where at least 10 people were detained. During this protest, police went into the crowd to pluck out people who held up portraits of Navalny. Some motorists honked their horns in support of the outrage.
Other protests have percolated throughout the country without big clashes.
8. Supporters Says This Proves Putin is a “Dictator Ruling by Oppression”
Putin has effectively rolled back Russia’s post-Soviet freedoms to tighten controls over the political scene. The Kremlin reforms came in response to a series of massive protests against Putin’s rule, which had been fueled by the fraud-tainted parliamentary election in December of 2012.
9. He Will Not Be Able to Run for President
As reported by Reuters, “a five-year sentence means he will not be able to run in the next presidential election in 2018 or for Moscow mayor in September as he had planned. Some political analysts had expected the court to hand down a suspended sentence, to keep Navalny out of prison but rule out any political challenge.”
10. Other Opposition Members Have Been Jailed
Since Putin returned to the presidency after four years as prime minister, women from the punk band Pussy Riot have been jailed for a protest against him in Russia’s main cathedral, and 12 opposition activists have gone on trial over violence that erupted at a protest on the eve of his inauguration in May 2012.
Another protest leader, Sergei Udaltsov, is under house arrest in what the opposition says is a crackdown on dissent.
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