Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny rearrested for breaking suspended sentence terms

December 30, 2014 6:12 pm

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was
rearrested Tuesday hours after a Russian court gave the opposition
leader a suspended sentence for embezzling money. Navalny’s brother,
Oleg, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in a case seen
by Navalny’s supporters as part of a campaign to stifle dissent.
Russian television showed images of Alexei Navalny being arrested
after breaking house arrest to attend a rally in front of the Kremlin in
Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square. His supporters had planned to gather there
on Tuesday, with about 17,000 registered to attend according to the
Facebook event page. Authorities had not given permission for the
protest, and arrests were expected. Some activists posted on Twitter that there was already a large police presence at the rally’s location ahead of the protest.
Navalny posted a message on Twitter confirming that he had been
detained, while urging protesters to remain at the demonstration.

Three years ago, Navalny led mass protests against President Vladimir
Putin, when tens of thousands took to the streets in Moscow and St.
Petersburg to protest against corruption in his government and inner
circle. A crackdown on those who dissented followed the mass protests, with hundreds arrested and dozens prosecuted.

Opposition figures say jailing Navalny risked a new wave of protests
and so it was decided to punish him by jailing his brother instead.

The Navalny brothers, Alexei and Oleg, were accused of stealing 30
million rubles, around $500,000 at the current exchange rate, from two
firms, including an affiliate of the French cosmetics company Yves
Rocher between 2008 and 2012.

Tuesday’s ruling comes as a relief for Navalny’s supporters after
prosecutors asked that he be imprisoned for 10 years. The Kremlin denies
allegations that it uses the courts to persecute opponents.

Officials have taken few steps to investigate Navalny’s corruption
allegations. He claimed there was mass embezzlement, including in state
bank VTB and pipeline monopoly Transneft, run by close allies of Putin.

“Aren’t you ashamed of what you are doing?” Navalny told the court
and judge Yelena Korobchenko. “Why are you putting him [my brother Oleg]
in prison? To punish me even harder?”

Currently under house arrest, Alexei Navalny is serving another suspended five-year jail term for a separate conviction last year, which critics also called a sham.

“The authorities are torturing and destroying relatives of their
political opponents. This regime doesn’t deserve to exist. It must be
destroyed,” Navalny told reporters outside the court as he was escorted
in a car for prisoners.

Russian state television channels were not covering the sentencing or
mentioned it very briefly, while most Russian print media or radio
stations had it among their top stories.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment and said the president would find out about the verdict from media.

Putin’s popularity has soared over the past year after Moscow’s
annexation of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking Crimea peninsula and its
incursion in east Ukraine, which led to the worst stand-off with the
West since the end of the Cold War. This has eroded the popularity of
opposition leaders such as Navalny.

However, falling oil prices and Western sanctions on Russia over
Ukraine have triggered a deep economic crisis, a rouble devaluation and
double-digit inflation, threatening Putin’s reputation for safeguarding
Russian prosperity.

Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, one of the most respected
Russian economists in the West, said this month Russia was facing a
full-fledged crisis that could lead to mass protests next year.

“The authorities could have easily put Navalny in jail. But they
understand that it would have led to a large wave of protests. So they
will torture him through other means,” economist and former central
banker turned opposition figure, Sergei Aleksashenko, told independent
television channel Dozhd.

Lawyers for Oleg Navalny said they didn’t know where exactly he would
be sent to serve his prison term. Putin’s critic and billionaire
Mikhail Khodorkovsky served his 10-year jail term in penal colonies from
northern Russia to east Siberia.

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