Surprise as court frees anti-Kremlin activist
Alexei Navalny released pending appeal against five-year jail term for embezzlement
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny embraces his wife Yulia, after his release
Russia has unexpectedly freed opposition leader Alexei Navalny pending his appeal against a controversial five-year jail term for embezzlement. His release followed protests in major Russian cities and a volley of international criticism.
The European Union and United States led condemnation of Thursday’s verdict against Mr Navalny, saying it reinforced fears of politically motivated prosecutions in Russia and cast further doubt on the independence of its judiciary.
In the hours after the verdict was delivered, several thousand people came out onto the streets of central Moscow and St Petersburg to protest against the jailing of Mr Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger who has become the most prominent Russian critic of president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Navalny (37) and his allies say allegations that he stole 16 million roubles (€377,000) worth of timber from a firm in Russia’s Kirov region were fabricated to discredit him and prevent him running in September’s Moscow mayoral election and the 2018 presidential elections.