Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the wrongful conviction of anti-corruption advocate Alexei Navalny and calls on Russia’s judicial system to reverse his sentence and restore his right to run for office. Yesterday, Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition leader, received a five year suspended sentence and was fined 500,000 rubles (U.S. $8,500) on trumped-up charges of “embezzlement” — effectively disqualifying him from running for office in 2018.
“Vladimir Putin has long used Russian courts to rubber-stamp his desires, so the Navalny decision is Putin’s latest attempt to preserve his grip on power and disqualify a strong contender for the March 2018 presidential election,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Navalny’s reputation as a young and principled opposition figure and vocal critic of the Russian dictatorship has long made him a target of the regime’s no-dissent policy,” he added.
Navalny is a lawyer well-known for his anti-corruption advocacy. He gained international attention in 2009 as an investigative reporter exposing corruption inside Russia, when he documented several cases that produced public outrage. In 2011, he helped to organize large-scale demonstrations against electoral fraud in Russia, and in 2013, Navalny announced his intentions to run for the presidency in 2018.
In 2013, Navalny was found guilty of “embezzlement” from a state-owned timber company in a politically-motivated trial. In February 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a first judgement declaring this conviction to be in violation of Navalny’s right to a fair trial because “the criminal law had been arbitrarily construed to [Navalny’s] detriment” and “Russian courts had failed to address Mr. Navalny’s arguable allegation that the reasons for his prosecution were his political activities.”
As a result of this ECHR preliminary decision, Russia’s judiciary ordered a retrial of the case, which concluded yesterday with a new conviction and 5-year suspended sentence. Yesterday’s decision was based on the same evidence as the 2013 trial and is said to be almost “identical to the old one.” On February 2, 2017, as Navalny’s retrial was pending in Russia, the ECHR in Strasburg issued a second, definitive decision holding that Russia violated Navalny’s right to free assembly seven times, unlawfully detained him seven times, and unlawfully placed him in pretrial detention twice. It also ordered the Russian government to compensate him with more than $68,000.
The ECHR’s February 2, 2017 decision determined that Russia violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights in Alexei Navalny’s case: the right to liberty (Article 5), right to a fair trial (Article 6), and the freedom of assembly (Article 11).
“By issuing a second wrongful conviction that contradicts the ECHR’s final judgment on Navalny’s case, Vladimir Putin is once again thumbing his nose at the international legal order that mandates respect for instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights, of which the Russian Federation is a state party,” said HRF chief legal officer, Javier El-Hage. “About the overtly subservient nature of Russia’s judiciary, this time the European court revealingly found that ‘Russian courts had based their judgments solely on the versions of events put forward by the police, whilst systematically failing to check their allegations, refusing Mr. Navalny’s requests for the court to examine evidence, and automatically presuming bias on behalf of all witnesses who had testified in his favour,” El-Hage added.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.