Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny jailed for corruption

Navalny's supporters have vowed to continue the struggle

Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny has been jailed for five years, for embezzlement from a timber firm.

Navalny had denied the charges, saying the trial was politically motivated.

The 37-year-old had been a leading campaigner against President Putin's United Russia party, and regularly blogged about corruption allegations.

The EU said the verdict posed "serious questions" about the state of Russian law. The US said it was "deeply disappointed".

Before he was handcuffed and led away, Navalny urged his supporters to continue his anti-corruption struggle, tweeting: "Don't sit around doing nothing."

Navalny has previously said he would like to stand for president one day.

He had recently registered his candidacy for the next mayor of Moscow, but his campaign team said that after the verdict he was withdrawing from the race, and called on his supporters to boycott the vote.

Analysis

Minutes after Judge Blinov started reading from the substantial sheaf of papers, it became evident the two defendants, Alexei Navalny and Pyotr Ofitserov, were going to be found guilty.

Seasoned observers of this trial were just about able to pick up the judge's words. Others were bewildered by the hum-like reading.

Entering the courtroom just before the verdict reading started, both defendants were far from gloomy. "Why sad faces?" quipped Navalny, walking past dozens of journalists and a row of cameras.

Navalny has long acquired the skill of tweeting and blogging while interminable financial documents were read by prosecution, defence and, now, judge.

Publishing his fiery comments on politics, corruption and the need to unite in opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime - that's one of the many things he won't be able to do from behind bars, waiting for the sentence to be appealed against.

'Explosion of anger'

The BBC's Moscow correspondent Daniel Sandford says that when the sentence was handed down, there were tears from Navalny's supporters and an explosion of anger on the social networking sites that he has used so effectively.

Anti-Putin activist and former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov told reporters the trial was "completely fabricated from start to finish, and even the judge could not say what the reason for the crime was".

Other countries have also voiced their concern at the verdict. The US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, said: "We are deeply disappointed in the conviction of Navalny and the apparent political motivations in this trial."

A spokesperson for the EU's top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, said the embezzlement charges were unsubstantiated, and that Navalny's jailing posed "serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in Russia".

French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot added his concern, but said: "We note that not all judicial remedies have been exhausted and that the sentence could be reviewed on appeal."

Navalny's supporters in Moscow have vowed to stage protests against the verdict later on Thursday.

'Almost inevitable'

Navalny arrived at the courtroom in Kirov to hear the verdict after a 12-hour overnight train journey from Moscow.

Our correspondent said Navalny smiled in a resigned manner when the almost inevitable guilty verdict came.

His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said her husband knew he would get a non-suspended sentence and was mentally prepared to go to prison.

Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled timber worth 16m rubles ($500,000; £330,000) from the Kirovles state timber company while working as an adviser to Kirov's governor Nikita Belykh.

The prosecution had asked for a six-year jail sentence, but judge Sergei Blinov decided on five years, and said there were no extenuating circumstances that would warrant keeping Navalny out of prison.

Navalny's co-accused, Pyotr Ofitserov, was also found guilty, and given a four-year jail sentence.

"Navalny... committed a grave crime," said Judge Blinov as he delivered the sentence.

Alexei Navalny (3rd R) stands in a courtroom in Kirov on July 18, 2013 Alexei Navalny (centre) took a 12-hour train journey to Kirov for the verdict.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia look at a mobile phone during the trial in Kirov, Russia, Thursday, July 18, 2013. As he had throughout the trial, Navalny kept his followers up-to-date on social media.
Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny (4th L) attends a court hearing in Kirov, July 18, 2013, as Judge Sergei Blinov gives his verdict Judge Sergei Blinov said Navalny had committed a "grave crime", and sentenced him to five years in jail.
Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing in Kirov, July 18, 2013 Navalny had expected the verdict, but it could put his hopes of running for Moscow mayor in doubt.
Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny (L) is handcuffed and escorted by Interior Ministry officers in a courtroom in Kirov, July 18, 2013 After hugging his wife, and tweeting to his followers not to "sit and do nothing", Navalny was led away to jail.

State television has only shown limited interest in the process despite Navalny's prominence, but online the trial has been followed extensively.

Mr Navalny came to public attention when he inspired mass protests against the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin in December 2011.

Alexei Navalny's rise to prominence

  • 2008: Started blogging about allegations of corruption at some of Russia's big state-controlled firms
  • Nov 2011: Ahead of parliamentary poll, he criticised President Putin's United Russia, famously dubbing it the "party of crooks and thieves"
  • Dec 2011: After the poll, he inspired mass protests against the Kremlin, and was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days
  • Oct 2012: Won most votes in a poll to choose opposition leadership
  • April 2013: Went on trial
  • July 2013: Declared himself a candidate for Moscow mayoral election
  • July 2013: Found guilty of theft and embezzlement

Judge Blinov said he found the testimony of the main prosecution witness, Vyacheslav Opalev, to be "trustworthy and consistent''.

Navalny insists that Mr Opalev spoke against him out of revenge, because Navalny had recommended he be fired and his company investigated for corruption.

After the verdict, Navalny tweeted: "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."

In his LiveJournal blog on Wednesday Navalny said: "The current authorities are not a big, healthy fish, but rather a bloated fish or Latin American toad, which puffs itself up when it sees danger, with the help of television."

In an unusual step, the court allowed the whole trial to be broadcast live online.

He is now one of the key figures of the opposition - a thorn in the side of the political establishment, campaigning against the endemic corruption, our correspondent says.

Mr Navalny has also coined a phrase to describe the ruling party United Russia that has stuck in everyone's minds - "the party of crooks and thieves".

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