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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny goes free, but conviction remains

An appeals court suspended the popular opposition leader's sentence, but refused to overturn his conviction.

Alexei navalny russia protest oct 2012Enlarge
Russian opposition activist and blogger Alexei Navalny holds a poster reading "I'm against repression and torture" in Moscow on October 27, 2012. About 200 people gathered near the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) to protest at the latest wave of arrests and allegations that one opposition leader was tortured into making a confession. (ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is a free man after a Kirov city appeals court suspended his five-year penal colony sentence on Wednesday.

His controversial conviction for embezzlement, however, was not overturned.

That means Navalny, who ran and lost in Moscow's recent mayoral election and figured largely in anti-President Vladimir Putin protests two years ago, will not be able to seek elected office "for the foreseeable future," according to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

Navalny, 37, said he would appeal that ruling.

"It's clear for me that the authorities are trying by all means to hound me out of politics, coming up with some restrictions and fabricated cases," Navalny said after the three-hour hearing.

"One thing is for sure, they will not succeed in pushing me and my allies out of political life," Navalny added.

In July, a court in Kirov, where Navalny had served as an advisor to the governor, convicted the anti-corruption blogger of organizing the theft of about $500,000 from a timber company.

Navalny has consistently denied the charge, saying his prosecution is politically motivated and punishment for standing up against the Kremlin.

But while many in Russia's opposition will welcome Navalny's freedom, there is a fear that the court's ruling could sideline him from the political arena, whereas jail time might have made him a popular martyr.

Opposition activist Ilya Yashin said as much on Twitter:

Two years ago a Levada Center poll showed six percent of Russians had heard of Navalny. Now 51 percent know who he is, and as the BBC notes, putting him in jail would not help anyone forget his name or the opposition he stands for. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/131016/russian-opposition-leader-alexei-navalny-goes-free