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West censures Moscow over Navalny ‘show trial’

Western powers and Russian opposition activists pilloried Moscow Thursday for jailing protest leader Alexei Navalny in what they said was a sham trial that raised further questions about Russia’s democratic credentials.

Navalny was sentenced to five years in a penal colony after being found guilty of embezzlement, a verdict which will disqualify one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics from politics.

“We are deeply disappointed in the conviction of Navalny and the apparent political motivations in this trial,” the US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul said on Twitter.

Germany went a step further in its condemnation of the verdict, with the government’s top coordinator on Russia Andreas Schockenhoff calling Navalny’s prosecution a “show trial”.

“The Navalny case stands for policies that tolerate no forms of opposition or political competition,” he said after the most politically-explosive judgement in Russia since anti-Kremlin tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2005.

The trial “raised doubts about whether criminal justice was the main motive,” said a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said “the decision to sentence him for five years has highlighted once again the concerns felt by many about the selective application of the rule of law in Russia.”

France also expressed concern, as did the European Union, with a spokesman for the bloc’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton arguing that the sentence “raises serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in Russia.”

Western powers urged the court in the northern town of Kirov to reconsider the sentence in the appeal process.

Russian opposition activists condemned it as a blatant move to punish Navalny, 37, for opposing the Kremlin just as he was preparing to stand in Moscow’s mayoral election.

“It is completely fabricated from start to finish and even the judge could not say what the reason for the crime was, what was the point,” former cabinet minister and anti-Kremlin activist Boris Nemtsov told reporters.

Khodorkovsky, until now Russia’s most high-profile prisoner, said the verdict was “predictable” and warned Russians that nobody was safe from political repression.

“They are already knocking on each and everyone’s door,” he said in a statement posted on his website.

The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also criticised the decision.

“Everything I know about this case… unfortunately confirms we do not have independent courts,” he said.

John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, slammed “a parody of a prosecution and a parody of a trial.”

“The case was twice closed for lack of evidence of a crime, before being reopened on the personal instruction of Russia’s top investigator,” he said in a statement.