Russia Convicts a Democrat

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Vladimir Putin bars his main electoral rival from running
Russian anti-corruption campaigner and opposition figure Alexei Navalny convicted at the Lublinsky district court in Moscow   Alexei NavalniAlexei Navalni

Moscow, Feb.8.─ A court in Kirov Wednesday convicted Alexei Navalny on dubious embezzlement charges, which means Russia’s most popular opposition leader will likely be barred from challenging Vladimir Putin when the Kremlin strongman makes his widely expected presidential rerun in 2018.

The 40-year-old Mr. Navalny rose to prominence a decade ago as an anticorruption blogger shedding light on the ill-gotten gains of the Kremlin oligarchy. Young and charismatic, he extended his appeal beyond the middle-class urbanites who read his blog. When he called ruling United Russia “the party of crooks and thieves,” the label stuck.

Prosecutors in 2011 launched an investigation into Mr. Navalny’s work as an unpaid consultant to a state-owned timber company, accusing him of masterminding the theft of some $520,000 worth of timber. The investigation was procedurally suspect from the start, not least because prosecutors repeatedly closed it for lack of evidence only to reopen it later.

Mr. Navalny was eventually convicted of embezzlement in 2013, but due to his enormous popularity and Western pressure, the authorities suspended his five-year sentence and allowed him to campaign for mayor of Moscow, where he finished second with 30% of the vote. The Russian Supreme Court overturned his 2013 conviction and ordered a retrial last year, after the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights found procedural irregularities in the original trial ...

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