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Russian Anti-Corruption Activist, Blogger Aleksei Navalny on Trial for Corruption

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, April 22 2013

Aleksei Navalny ( MItya Aleshkovskiy)

In four years Aleksei Navalny went from being an unknown adviser to a provincial governor to “the Kremlin’s public enemy No.1” and the center of an embezzlement trial. Through his LiveJournal blog and Twitter account Navalny exposed evidence of corruption in the United Russia party and became not only a popular activist but a prominent political opposition leader as well. If convicted – and Russia has a 99 percent conviction rate – he faces ten years in prison and, as a convict, he would be prevented from running for office. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Bill Keller called it “the most important political trial in Russian in decades.”

On April 11 Navalny made the short-list for the Russian award Politprosvet (translation: Political Enlightenment) for his blog navalny.livejournal.com. Although the committee did not specify why he was nominated, it was presumably for his anti-corruption work. The young (36) lawyer and blogger has been likened to a Russian Julian Assange. In 2009 he bought shares in state-run companies and then leveraged them to get internal documents to post on his blog. He accused officials of stealing more than $150 million from a state bank and $4 billion from an oil pipeline operator. In 2011 he urged readers to vote for anyone but the United Russia party, which he dubbed “the party of crooks and thieves.” The United Russia party pulled through, but many suspected voter fraud and gathered for massive street protests led by activists, including Navalny.

Navalny is charged with embezzling 16m roubles ($500,000) at a state-run timber farm while working as an adviser to a provincial governor. Three other pending fraud cases have also been opened against him. Keller notes that a Chicago law firm called the charges of embezzlement “laughably bogus” in their review of the case, while local authorities conducted an investigation and concluded no crime had been committed. And yet the federal Investigative Committee still charged Navalny. Keller points out in his piece that Navalny recent went after the head of the Investigative committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin.

Navalny asserts the trial is an attempt to discredit him. He told the BBC, "If you put an anti-corruption activist into prison for participating in a political protest, it will only help his publicity. But if you say that he is corrupt…"

“I am practically sure that they will lock me up. It is just a feeling, I don’t have any inside information or anything,” Navalny told the New York Times. But ultimately, it seems he expects victory for Russia, if not for himself: “I am absolutely sure we will win, and that we are right.

“. . . There was no Internet then, only First Channel, and everything seemed hopeless. Now things look a million times more optimistic, and we have something to compare it to.”

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