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Blogger And Putin Critic Charged, Ordered Not To Leave Moscow

Russian opposition blogger Aleksei Navalny talks to reporters before meeting with police investigators on July 31.
Russian opposition blogger Aleksei Navalny talks to reporters before meeting with police investigators on July 31.
Russian authorities have formally charged the blogger and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny with organizing the theft of funds from a state timber firm and ordered him not to leave Moscow.

Navalny, who was charged on July 31, could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

Authorities earlier this month reopened a two-year-old probe of Navalny over the disappearance of some 1 million rubles (ca. $31,000).

But that amount was raised on July 31, with investigators accusing Navalny of being responsible for the disappearance of more than 16 million rubles (some $500,000) from the forestry firm in Kirov in 2009.

Navalny had worked as an adviser to the Kirov region's governor.

Navalny rejects the allegations, calling them groundless and "weird."

He has twice before served short jail terms for his role in protests against President Vladimir Putin.

Rapid Condemnation

Russian opposition leaders and rights activists have been quick to condemn the charges against Navalny.

Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov said the charges marked the latest attempt by Russian authorities to pressure the opposition.

Udaltsov noted that since opposition protests against Putin on May 6, which included clashes between demonstrators and police, Russian authorities have initiated legal cases and conducted arrests and searches of opposition activists' homes.

Udaltsov denounced the charges against Navalny, calling them a "political order."

Ludmila Alekseyeva of the independent rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki group, called the charges against Navalny the "start of a new campaign of reprisals against the opposition."

Navalny is one of the opposition's most outspoken leaders, helping to organize mass demonstrations against last December's parliamentary elections and Putin's reelection to a third term as Russia's president last March.

'Like The Middle Ages'

Since winning a third term, Putin's government has worked to tighten legislation concerning the right to demonstrate.

Navalny has also been one of the leading critics of the trial against the all-girl punk band Pussy Riot on charges of "hooliganism" for an unsanctioned anti-Putin performance carried out in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February.

"To be honest, when I was reading the Twitter [posts on the Pussy Riot trial] yesterday, hairs were standing up on my neck," Navalny said of the group on July 31, just prior to the announcement of the new charges against him. "What is happening in the court there does not have any relation to the law. It doesn't matter much what they've done. Their action is petty hooliganism. They should have not been arrested. What's happening now is like from the Middle Ages.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt reacted to news of charges against Navalny, saying in a Twitter message: "We should be concerned with attempts in Russia to silence fierce opposition activist Aleksei Navalny."

With reporting by ITAR-TASS, IFX Rus, AP, and Reuters
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