MOSCOW, July 19 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian court released opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny from custody Friday, as the five-year prison sentence handed down to him the day before will only come in force in ten days, after his appeal is heard.
Navalny was taken into custody Thursday after being sentenced by a court in the city of Kirov for masterminding a 2009 embezzlement scheme involving a state-owned timber supply company in the Kirov region. Navalny has denied the charges, claiming the trial was politically motivated and orchestrated by the Kremlin in response to his role in organizing a series of massive public protests against President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office requested Navalny be released from custody until his sentence comes into legal force. If Navalny does not appeal the verdict, he will have to go to prison in 10 days, it said.
Navalny, 37, was released in the courtroom Friday along with his co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov, who was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the crime. They will be required to sign a pledge not to leave Moscow, their city of residence.
Thousands rallied in central Moscow Thursday night protesting Navalny’s conviction. Police said they briefly detained more than 200 protesters.
"I want to embrace everyone who participated" in the rally, Navalny said in the courtroom.
He also said he had not yet made a decision on whether to run for mayor of Moscow in an election on September 8. Navalny was officially registered as a candidate for Moscow mayor Wednesday.
"I'm not a pet kitten or puppy who they have thrown out and then decided to release for a month before the election," he said. "I will make a decision with my campaign team after I get back to Moscow."
Navalny’s campaign manager Leonid Volkov said Thursday after the conviction was announced that Navalny would drop his bid to stand for mayor because “it is not an election; there is no point in taking part.”
Navalny’s conviction, if not overturned on appeal, would bar him from running for any public office in future. Ahead of his trial, he had announced his ambition to stand in future presidential elections.
Western governments and human rights groups condemned Navalny’s conviction and criticized the Kremlin for its “selective use” of the law against political opponents.
The judge in the trial repeatedly rejected claims over his partiality and denied several motions to have him replaced.
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