European court: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's conviction 'arbitrary'

Russia's leading critic of President Vladimir Putin was convicted of money laundering and fraud in 2014. The European Court of Human Rights has heavily criticized that decision in a new ruling.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that a Russian court's 2014 conviction of opposition leader Alexei Navalny had been "arbitrary" and ordered the Russian government to pay Navalny compensation.

"We have won. Thanks everyone for support," Navalny wrote in a Twitter post after the verdict.

The 41-year-old Yale-educated lawyer, a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, later wrote on his website: "We proved that this case was a fabricated one, and that this ugly buffoonery in the courtroom in 2014 had nothing to do with a fair legal proceeding."

'Ambiguous' court decision

Navalny received a suspended sentence of three and half years and his brother Oleg a prison sentence of the same length in December 2014 after the court found them guilty of money laundering and fraud.

Both men issued a complaint with the ECHR in Strasbourg, France, in January 2015, saying the decision was based on "such broad and ambiguous terms" that it misapplied Russian law.

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Navalny and hundreds of protesters detained in Russia

ECHR judges on Tuesday unanimously agreed with that interpretation and ordered the Russian government to pay the two men €83,000 ($98,000) in compensation.

Russia's ECHR representative, Mikhail Galperin, reportedly told Russian news agency TASS that Moscow has three months to lodge an appeal against the ruling.

But even if the appeal fails, the government could avoid the payment by ignoring the court's decision. President Putin signed a law in 2015 that allows the government to ignore an order from an international court.

Navalny 2018?

The 2014 court case was neither the first nor the most recent for Navalny. In February, a Russian court gave him a five-year suspended sentence for embezzlement in a case that began in 2013.

Russian authorities have since said that case, which required a retrial after the ECHR had declared the first trial unfair, barred Navalny from running in the 2018 presidential election. Navalny has claimed the sentencing was politically motivated to prevent him from running.

More recently, a Russian court gave Navalny a 20-day jail sentence on October 2 for calling an unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg. He had previously served two other jail sentences for organizing unauthorized protests in Moscow.

'A true, fair court'

Navalny was relieved after the ECHR's Tuesday ruling.

"When thieves and swindlers in power declare that I cannot run (for president) because of 'the law', 'the sentence', because (I am) 'a criminal' and 'recidivist', we can show them with confidence what they will never have -- a decision by a true, fair court," he wrote on his personal website.

"It is clearly written there that the law and the right are on our side. It's them who are criminals, not me."

amp/se (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

Who is Alexei Navalny?

The face of Russia's opposition

The lawyer-turned-political campaigner has been among the most prominent figures of Russia's opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Navalny came to prominence in 2008, when his blog exposing malpractice in Russian politics and among the country's major state-owned companies came to the public's attention. Revelations published on his blog even led to resignations, a rarity in Russian politics.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Disputed parliamentary elections

In 2011, Navalny was arrested for the first time, spending 15 days in prison for his role at a rally outside the State Duma in Moscow. The parliamentary election victory for Putin's United Russia was marred by instances of ballot stuffing, reported by demonstrators on social media. Upon his release, Navalny pledged to make "extraordinary efforts" to continue the protest movement.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Second jail term

After being re-elected president in 2012, Putin ordered Russia's Investigative Committee to launch a criminal enquiry into Nivalny's past. The following year the campaigner was charged and sentenced again, this time for five years, for alleged embezzlement in the city of Kirov. However, he was released the following day pending affirmation from a higher court. The sentence was later suspended.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Anti-Kremlin platform grows

Despite being embroiled in legal troubles, Navalny was allowed to run in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election. A second-place finish behind Putin-ally Sergei Sobyanin was seen as an overwhelming success and galvanized the Russian opposition movement.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Navalny takes to social media

His anti-Kremlin rhetoric has led to Navalny being banned from appearing on Russian state-owned television. That has forced him to deliver his political message over social media and his blog. His talent for public speaking, punchy use of language and humorous mockery of Putin and his loyalists has mobilized a legion of young followers.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Presidential ambitions

In December 2016, the opposition leader announced the formal start of his campaign to run for the Russian presidency in March 2018. However, repeated accusations of corruption, which his supporters say are politically motivated, could ultimately bar him from running for public office.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Convicted of corruption

In 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia had violated Navalny's right to a fair trial in the Kirov case. Although Russia's Supreme Court overturned the five-year sentence, the verdict was sent back to the Kirov court, which in 2017 again charged Navalny with a suspended five-year sentence. Navalny's challenge against the ruling remains ongoing.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Moscow's biggest protests in six years

In February 2017, anti-corruption rallies across dozens of Russian cities led to the arrests of over 1,000 demonstrators, including Navalny. The protests, believed to have been the largest in the Russian capital since 2012, were spurred by a report published by Navalny linking Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to a billion-euro property empire. The presidential candidate was released 15 days later.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Physically assaulted

Navalny was assaulted and hospitalized in April 2017 after being hit in the eye with a chemical green dye, permanently damaging his right cornea. Navalny accused the Russian authorities of stopping him from seeking medical treatment abroad due to the embezzlement conviction against him. However, he was eventually permitted by the Kremlin human rights council to travel to Spain for eye surgery.