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Kremlin Foe Navalny Avoids Prison, Brother Jailed

  • RFE/RL

Russian opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny (front) and his brother and co-defendant Oleg attend a court hearing in Moscow on December 30.

Russian opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny (front) and his brother and co-defendant Oleg attend a court hearing in Moscow on December 30.

A Moscow court has convicted Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny of fraud and given him a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence, meaning he will not be jailed.

But Judge Yelena Korobchenko sentenced Navalny's brother, Oleg, to a prison term of the same length after a trial Navalny's supporters said was part of a campaign of retribution for his opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

In addition, the brothers were fined 500,000 rubles ($8,500) each and ordered to pay 4.4 million rubles ($70,000) in compensation to one of the companies they were charged with defrauding.

Defense lawyers immediately said they will appeal the verdict.

The split sentences immediately drew accusations from government critics that the state was holding Navalny 's brother "hostage" in its battle against the Putin foe, and Oleg Navalny was handcuffed after the judge announced the sentences.

"Aren't you ashamed of what you are doing," Aleksei Navalny shouted out in the courtroom: "Why are you jailing my brother?"

"Oleg is a hostage," said Ilya Yashin, a prominent opposition activist who came to the courthouse to support Navalny and his brother. "This is a mechanism of pressure on a person: try fighting corruption when your brother's in jail."

The brothers were charged with stealing 31 million rubles ($520,000) from two Russian companies and laundering some of the money.

On December 29, the judge abruptly moved the date of the verdict forward from January 15 to December 30, a move Navalny's supporters said was intended to head off a protest on the day of the verdict.

Government opponents swiftly reacted to the change, and by the time the verdict was announced some 16,000 people said on Facebook that they would attend a rally outside the Kremlin on the evening of December 30.

Protests

The 38-year-old Navalny is an anticorruption crusader who helped lead protests against the Russian government during 2011 and 2012, after a parliamentary election marred by allegations of wide-scale fraud in favor of Putin's ruling party.

WATCH: Navalny Gets Suspended Sentence, Calls For Protests

Navalny also unsettled the Kremlin with a strong showing of support in the Moscow mayoral election of 2013.

Navalny was sentenced to prison in 2013 after being convicted of defrauding a state timber company and was taken from the courtroom to a detention facility.

But he was released the following day after thousands of protesters gathered outside the Kremlin to denounce his imprisonment.

His five-year prison sentence in the timber case was later suspended on appeal. He has been under house arrest since February.

Navalny denies any wrongdoing. He says the cases against him are part of a campaign to keep him out of politics and punish him for leading protests and spearheading high-profile anticorruption investigations targeting powerful Russian officials.

On December 30, Navalny was ordered to remain under house arrest until the new verdict enters into force after all appeals have been exhausted.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, "Novaya Gazeta," and Rapsinews.ru
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