Anger grows after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is jailed

Activist conviction for corruption has been condemned by the EU and the US


The decision to jail Alexei Navalny, the man widely regarded as the most promising opposition leader in Russia, was met with widespread condemnation last night with the European Union saying it raised “serious questions” about Russian law, and the United States announcing it was “deeply disappointed” in the verdict.

Mr Navalny was dispatched to jail for five years yesterday morning, in a sign that President Vladimir Putin intends to continue a crackdown on dissenters implemented after he returned to the Kremlin in May.

Mr Navalny, a blogger and activist who has uncovered numerous cases of high-level corruption in the Russian government, was found guilty of embezzlement at a trial that has been described as logically incoherent and politically motivated. Judge Sergei Blinov, who took over three hours to read the verdict, said Mr Navalny had organised a conspiracy to defraud a timber company in Kirov region. His co-defendant, Petr Ofitserov, received a four-year sentence.

Thousands of people gathered in central Moscow to protest against the decision yesterday evening, resulting in dozens of arrests. Police closed off Manezh Square, in the shadow of the Kremlin, where the rally was planned, but large crowds gathered in the surrounding streets, shouting “Freedom to Navalny!” and “Putin is a thief!” Attempts to block major central streets were swiftly repelled by police.

The sentence is a stark reminder of the uncompromising course that Mr Putin has taken in the past year. The President has never mentioned Mr Navalny by name, but the opposition leader’s charisma and oratory, as well as a populist nationalist streak, have seen him widely singled out as the leader the Kremlin should fear the most. During the trial, Mr Navalny spoke of his desire to “destroy the feudal system” that Mr Putin has implemented, and end “100 families sucking all the wealth from Russia”.

Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia remained composed as her husband was put in handcuffs and led away. The wife of Mr Ofitserov broke down in tears. In his closing statement, Mr Navalny had said he understood the case was a political order but begged the judge not to send Mr Ofitserov, a father of five, to jail as well. “It’s obvious that Ofitserov has been caught up in this completely by chance,” he said. Independent observers have said that the evidence against Mr Navalny simply does not stack up. The judge looked embarrassed but has passed down a tough sentence anyway.

In court, Mr Navalny spent much of the verdict checking his mobile phone and tweeting, and before he was led away posted one final tweet. “Oh well,” he wrote. “Don’t get bored without me. And most importantly, don’t stay idle. The frog will not get off the oil pipe itself.” Minutes after the verdict, the two main indexes on Moscow’s stock exchange fell sharply, with Russian shares hitting a four-week low.

In the run-up to yesterday’s verdict, there had been speculation that Mr Navalny would be given a suspended sentence that would take time to come into force officially, allowing him to take part in September’s Moscow mayor elections. The logic was that Mr Navalny would fail to win, and the elections would be given legitimacy.

However, in an unexpected twist, the prosecutor yesterday evening called for Mr Navalny to be released during the appeals process, suggesting that discussions may still be going on in the Kremlin about whether jailing Mr Navalny is really the best course. A hearing is due today, which could result in the whistleblower being freed while the appeals process takes place. This could also leave him free to stand in September’s elections.

The Russian human rights organisation Memorial labelled Mr Navalny and Mr Ofitserov political prisoners, while foreign governments also lined up to criticise the court’s ruling. “We are deeply disappointed in the conviction and the apparent political motivations in this trial,” wrote US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, on Twitter.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man but who has been in jail since 2003 after he was convicted of tax evasion, said:  “Until we realise that the trials of Navalny, Bolotnaya, and hundreds of thousands of other guiltlessly convicted people are our trials, they are just going to keep on locking us up, one at a time.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
Tattoo enthusiast Cammy Stewart poses for a portrait during the Great British Tattoo Show
In picturesThe Great British Tattoo Show
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?