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European court: Russian opposition conviction 'arbitrary'

October 17, 2017

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.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/E.Feldman

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.

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)