Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Russia puts opposition blogger on trial

KIROV, Russia — The Russian opposition’s most charismatic leader goes on trial here Wednesday, a confrontation with the potential to weaken the democracy movement for years to come — or inject it with new energy and purpose.

The embezzlement case against Alexei Navalny, the 36-year-old lawyer who won a following as an anti-corruption blogger and became a hero of last year’s street protests, is widely considered a test of how harshly President Vladimir Putin intends to crack down on dissent.

Even Navalny, who calls the charges ridiculous, expects a guilty verdict. The case was opened by high-level officials in Moscow 600 miles away and Russia’s judicial system listens to orders from above at the expense of legal arguments, he said.

Navalny predicts a suspended sentence and, as a convict, he would be prevented from running for office, while being kept on a short leash with the threat of prison. Putting him behind bars — Navalny could get up to 10 years in prison — might provoke the opposition too far. Whatever the outcome, he said, it all comes down to Putin.

“If Putin decides I will be in jail,” Navalny said in an interview with four reporters at his Moscow office Monday, “then I will be in jail no matter what.”
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