The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Thursday condemning charges against an opposition leader to the Russian government as “politically motivated.” The resolution cited the case of political activist Alexei Navalny, as an example of a wider trend of the “numerous serious violations of the rule of law” in Russia.
“As one of the faces of the opposition movement at the forefront of the many demonstrations recently seen in Moscow, Navalny’s placement under house arrest in February of last year, on the basis of trumped up and serious charges, is seen as a way to silence one of Putin’s most outspoken critics,” said Charles Tannock, a member of the European Parliament on Thursday.
Navalny, 38, is a lawyer, blogger, and a prominent opposition leader in Russia, known primarily for his quest to expose corruption of high-level Russian officials. He is also famous for helping to mobilize thousands of people in late 2011 and early 2012 to protest the rigging of the Russian parliamentary and then presidential elections.
Since he rose to popularity in 2012, he has been under constant pressure from the Russian authorities, first through close monitoring and later through charges of embezzlement in Moscow courts.
His first court sentence in July 2013, denounced by human rights advocates as politically motivated, was for five years. This sentence was later suspended, many believe because authorities feared jailing him would send thousands of his supporters into the streets.
The suspension of his sentence allowed him to run in the Moscow mayoral elections in September and he won 27 percent of the votes, showing that, even without the use of state-backed media to broadcast his campaign, he was a prominent leader in the opposition movement.
In February 2014, another charge of embezzlement was brought against Navalny and his brother Oleg, and both were found guilty by a Moscow district court late last year. Oleg was given a 3.5-year suspended sentence and Oleg a 3.5-year jail term, which he is now serving.
The announcement of the court’s decision, originally scheduled for Jan. 15, was suddenly moved to Dec. 30. This tactic of moving a court date to a holiday, when most Russians would be busy celebrating, was used in the past with the highly publicized case of tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky as well.
“Procedural illegalities were plenty from the moment the case was built till the verdict was announced in the absence of most press and international observers,” said Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, before the EU Parliament on Thursday.
It was this development that prompted the EU Parliament to adopt a resolution condemning the “multitude of judicial cases in which politically constructed reasons are used to eliminate political competition, threaten civil society and discourage citizens from participating in public rallies and protests opposing the country’s current leadership.”
The resolution also condemns what it calls “political use” of Navalny’s family to intimidate him—Oleg Navalny, the father of two, never played a role in the Russian opposition movement.
The EU Parliament said it supported the campaign against corruption Navalny was leading and urged the Russian judicial system to act independently and according to Russian and international law.