As NSA leaker seeks refuge in Russia from U.S. prosecution while claiming America has violated civil rights, a Russian court has sentenced activist, blogger and Moscow mayoral opposition candidate Alexei Navalny to five years in prison.
Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader, has been seen as one of the strongest figures to emerge in the fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin. The embezzlement charge and sentence sparked protests in Moscow that police have swiftly tried to beat back.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said the sentence “continues Russia’s turn back to the darker days of the Soviet Union when courts were weapons of tyranny rather than legitimate defenders of the rule of law.”
“Like others throughout history, Navalny is a man fighting to free the country he loves. Trumped up charges and sham verdicts of political opponents, critics, and individuals who simply want to see a better future for their country, will only embolden, not end, the growing campaigns to name and shame corrupt officials and those who blatantly betray the trust of the Russian people,” Cardin continued. “No one is fooled by the games being played here. Navalny must be released free and unharmed.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the conviction “would be a total farce if it were not so deeply tragic.”
“Navalny’s show trial, as well as the posthumous conviction last week of another opponent of corruption, Sergei Magnitsky, are only the most recent examples of how the Putin government seems determined to drag Russia back to some of the worst aspects of its past. However, a growing number of Russian citizens like Navalny, Magnitsky, and many others are finding the courage to speak up against the injustices, suppression of freedom, and the growing culture of impunity in Russia today,” McCain said.
“The Putin government sees people like these as criminals, or worse. But the free world knows who they really are: Russian patriots, servants of justice and truth, and the future leaders of their country,” he added. “Navalny will likely spend the next five years of his life in prison. He will often be alone, but he will not be forgotten. Navalny and all of Russia’s political prisoners should be released immediately and we will continue to call for this.”
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. is “deeply disappointed and concerned” at the conviction.
Navalny’s co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov, received a four-year sentence in the “corrective labor colony.”
“Navalny’s harsh prison sentence is the latest example of a disturbing trend of government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and civil society in Russia. The numerous procedural shortcomings in this case also reinforce our broader concerns about rule of law in Russia,” Carney said.
Snowden has applied for temporary asylum in Russia, saying in his application that “he faces persecution by the U.S. government and he fears for his life and safety, fears that he could be subjected to torture and capital punishment,” lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said on Russian television.
“You know, what we say to the Russians privately is what we say publicly about this matter and what I’ve said here all week in days previous to this week. And that is that it’s — while we don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia, it is our view that there is substantial legal justification for him to be returned to the United States,” Carney said yesterday. “He is not a human rights advocate or dissident.”