Russia's Alexei Navalny's sentence suspended on appeal

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe BBC's Steve Rosenberg describes what happened in court

A Russian appeals court has upheld opposition leader Alexei Navalny's conviction for embezzlement, but suspended his jail sentence, allowing him to go free.

However, his conviction is likely to prevent him running in the next presidential election.

Navalny was sentenced to five years in July but released pending the appeal.

He has always denied the charges, which relate to his time as an adviser to the governor of the Kirov region.

His conviction bars him from running for elected office. Navalny has said in the past he would like to stand for president.

But it appears his five-year sentence would rule him out of running for the next presidential election, due to take place in spring 2018.

Navalny vowed to continue in politics, accusing the authorities of prosecuting him for political reasons, and said he would appeal against the sentence.

While on bail, he stood for mayor of Moscow, coming second and nearly managing to force the Kremlin's candidate into a run-off.

Decade out?

While the Kremlin denies exerting pressure on courts and judges, it is widely believed to do just that, the BBC's Steve Rosenberg reports from Moscow.

The change to a suspended sentence may reflect the authorities' concern that a five-year prison term would make Navalny a political martyr, our correspondent says.

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

Speaking after the appeal verdict, he said: "It's clear for me that the authorities are trying by all means to hound me out of politics, coming up with some restrictions and fabricated cases.

"One thing is for sure, they will not succeed in pushing me and my allies out of political life."

He could be seen using a mobile phone bearing a sticker which mocked Russia's current President, Vladimir Putin, as a thief.

The veteran anti-corruption campaigner hugged his wife, Yulia, who has travelled from Moscow to Kirov with him for his court appearances.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Navalny's wife Yulia was with him at the hearing

Co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov, who was jailed for four years, also had his sentence suspended on Wednesday.

Navalny took 27% of the mayoral vote in Moscow against the Kremlin-backed incumbent, Sergei Sobyanin, who officially scraped through on the first round with 51% - a result the opposition leader disputes.

Navalny built up his original following outside the political mainstream, using social media to highlight corruption which he identified with Mr Putin and his allies.

Since Mr Putin returned to power as president last year, other leading lights of the informal opposition have also been prosecuted, raising suspicions that the Kremlin is using the legal system to disable its enemies.

Fellow opposition activist Ilya Yashin said on Twitter that the verdict meant "political isolation".

The five-year ban on political office for Navalny effectively excludes the 37-year-old from the next presidential election, due in 2018.

His lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, noted that he had also been given a "conditional" five-year term of probation, to be served consecutively, Reuters news agency reports.

Theoretically, then, Navalny could be barred from elections for a decade.

A mocking hash tag has been trending on Russian Twitter which translates into English as "Suspended Leader of the Opposition".

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites