Around 40 protesters were arrested in Moscow yesterday after the verdict against Alexei Navalny was handed down. Navalny, who is an outspoken opponent of Vladimir Putin as well as an anti-corruption blogger and activist, was sentenced to 5 years in a penal colony for “embezzlement”. Immediately following this, thousands descended into the streets surrounding the courtroom in a show of defiance against the verdict shouting things like “Putin is a thief!”
In terms of the crime itself, judge Sergei Blinov determined that Navalny had been part of a scheme to steal 16 million rubles (or, £326,000) while acting as a governmental advisor. The official statement:
“The court has established that Navalny organized the criminal act and led the execution of this large-scale embezzlement.”
Alexei, as well as many others however, feel that the move was a calculated political ploy to silence him. Since late 2011, Navalny has been one of the more highly visible forces of opposition to the hard-line Russian government and has garnered quite a large following. Likewise, the timing of this verdict seems to be questionable as well, especially considering the fact that Navalny was recently accepted as a candidate for Moscow mayor. For many of these protesters and political opponents of Putin, the story is a simple one, Navalny was brought up on charges in order to ensure that he doesn’t rise to power. Moreover, many younger Russians seem to be interpreting this development as a clear message from the political oligarchy that they shouldn’t seek to change the system or “rock the boat’.
The verdict even prompted a response from the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who had this to say:
“The case left a deep impression on me. Everything I know about this case – the way it started, the way it was closed, and then restarted again, the way it was presented in court, unfortunately all of this confirms that we don’t have an independent court. I am sure that using courts in order to fight one’s political opponents is unacceptable.”