MOSCOW (AP) — Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is a leading foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found guilty of fraud and given a suspended sentence of three and a half years on Tuesday.
The verdict was to have been announced next month, but the court session was abruptly moved forward, leading to speculation that authorities wanted to impede possible protests if he is convicted. The verdict comes as Russians are preparing for New Year's and Orthodox Christmas.
Russian opposition activist and anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny waits for a start of a trial in a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Opposition activist and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, who has been under house arrest since February, is being charged in a second trial that may put him behind bars for good. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Navalny and his brother Oleg were convicted of defrauding a cosmetics company. Oleg Navalny was also convicted on Tuesday and sentenced to the same prison term, but his was not suspended.
"You want to punish me, but why are you putting him in jail?" Alexei Navalny shouted at the judge.
[sharequote align="center"]"You want to punish me, but why are you putting him in jail?"[/sharequote]
The brothers had both arrived at the courtroom with luggage, indicating they expected to be immediately sent to incarceration.
Navalny, a lawyer and popular blogger, rose to prominence with his investigations of official corruption and played a leading role in organizing massive anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow in 2011 and 2012.
Russian opposition activist and anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, right, and his brother Oleg wait for a start of a trial against them in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Navalny, who has been under house arrest since February, is being charged in a second trial that may put him behind bars for good. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
In a 2013 trial in a different criminal case, he was found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to prison, but he was released the next day after thousands of people protested in the streets of Moscow. He was then handed a suspended sentence and finished a strong second in Moscow's mayoral election in September 2013.
At the conclusion of testimony in the latest trial, prosecutors asked for a 10-year sentence for Navalny. It was not immediately clear why the court chose the shorter term or why it was suspended, but that could reflect official concern about the prospect of unrest.
More than 16,000 people have said on Facebook that they would attend an unsanctioned protest called for Tuesday evening in Manezh Square adjacent to the Kremlin. The provocateur group Pussy Riot released a video Tuesday supporting the protest, featuring women sweeping snow from the square with brooms and then mounting them and flying off as witches.
Alexei Navalny remains under house arrest until his appeals process is exhausted.