Russian opposition leader freed temporarily after protests

Alexei Navalny an anti-corruption campaigner, was convicted of organising a scheme to steal money from timber firm

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (centre) talks to the media, with his wife Yulia  standing nearby, outside a court building in Kirov. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (centre) talks to the media, with his wife Yulia standing nearby, outside a court building in Kirov. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

 

Russia temporarily freed Alexei Navalny today, bending to the will of protesters who denounced the opposition leader’s five-year jail sentence as a crude attempt by president Vladimir Putin to silence him.

People took to the streets of Russia’s main cities in their thousands yesterday to vent their anger after a court in the city of Kirov convicted Navalny of what he says were trumped-up theft charges. More than 200 were detained.

In a move that could be designed to head off more unrest, the court accepted an unusual request by prosecutors to let Navalny out of detention to await the outcome of an appeal, but said his movement would be restricted.

“I am very grateful to all the people who supported us, all the people who went to (protest on Moscow’s) Manezh Square and other squares,” Navalny (37) said after he was released from a glass courtroom cage and embraced his wife.

Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has led protests against Mr Putin, was convicted yesterday of organising a scheme to steal at least 16 million roubles from a timber firm when he was advising the Kirov regional governor in 2009.

He says he did nothing wrong and that the sentence is intended by Mr Putin to sideline him as a potential political rival.

The United States and the European Union criticised the verdict and said it raised questions about the rule of law.