Alexei Navalny: Russian jail term is condemned

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Media captionProtesters were met with a large police presence in Moscow

The conviction and jailing of Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny has led to widespread criticism.

Navalny was imprisoned for five years for embezzlement from a timber firm. He had denied the charges, saying the trial was politically motivated.

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

Later, police detained dozens of protesters following scuffles in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities.

Thousands took to the streets for protests which continued late into the evening.

In Kirov, where the trial was held, at least two Navalny supporters were arrested after the verdict and sentence were announced.

'Parody of a trial'

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

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

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

Later it emerged that he could be temporarily freed until the sentence comes into force in 10 days' time, or pending an appeal.

Navalny had recently registered his candidacy for the next mayor of Moscow, and Interfax news agency quotes the head of his election headquarters as saying he will take part in the September poll if he remains free.

But Russian officials say if the verdict does come into force, he will be barred from running in any future election.

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.

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

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".

Jailed former oil executive and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky said the conviction was "predictable and unavoidable", according to the independent Ekho Moskvy website.

"There is nothing unusual for the government's opponents to be convicted of crimes in Russia," he added.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Alexei Navalny (centre) took a 12-hour train journey to Kirov for the verdict.
Image copyright AP
Image caption As he had throughout the trial, Navalny kept his followers up-to-date on social media.
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Judge Sergei Blinov said Navalny had committed a "grave crime", and sentenced him to five years in jail.
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Navalny had expected the verdict, which would end his hopes of running for mayor of Moscow.
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption After hugging his wife, and tweeting to his followers not to "sit and do nothing", Navalny was led away to jail.

The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, said using courts to punish political opponents was "unacceptable".

In a statement posted on his charity's website, he said: "Everything I know about this case... unfortunately confirms we do not have independent courts."

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 spokesman 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".

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the trial had "raised doubts about whether criminal justice was the main motive".

"Five years in prison appears disproportionate, given the alleged crime," Steffen Seibert added.

Russian rights group Memorial said the country "now has one more political prisoner", while Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia director, John Dalhuisen, said in a statement: "This was a parody of a prosecution and a parody of a trial."

But the Kremlin denies that Mr Putin uses the courts for political ends, and the judge rejected Navalny's claim the trial was politically motivated.

Pro-government analyst Sergei Markov said many Navalny supporters "realise deep in their souls that the court has proven in a normal way that Navalny was a thief".

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

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

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