Wed, Jan 07, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Defiant Putin critic removes monitoring bracelet

NY Times News Service, MOSCOW

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s electronic monitoring bracelet, which was cut off, is pictured in Moscow in a photo provided by a third party on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

Taunting the Kremlin yet again, Russian political opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Monday snipped the electronic bracelet used by the authorities to monitor his whereabouts and personally declared an end to his more than 10 months of house arrest.

Navalny’s latest challenge to the authorities came six days after a Moscow court convicted him of criminal embezzlement charges, but issued a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence, sparing him jail time.

Navalny, a lawyer who rose to prominence as a blogger crusading against pervasive state corruption, has emerged in recent years as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief domestic antagonist.

Organized opposition to Putin has weakened in recent months, but the reluctance of the authorities to put Navalny in prison suggests that he poses a conundrum as they try to restrict his political activities, while not turning him into a martyr.

Navalny has been under house arrest since late February last year in connection with the criminal case. He and his younger brother, Oleg, were accused of defrauding a Russian subsidiary of the French perfume company Yves Rocher by overcharging for shipping services provided by a courier company they owned.

Lawyers had said they had expected Navalny’s house arrest to end as soon as the verdict and suspended sentence were officially registered with the correctional authorities.

However, in a statement on Monday, Navalny said that no paperwork had come through and that he would no longer remain confined to his apartment on the outskirts of Moscow.

“It’s stupid to boast about this,” Navalny wrote in the statement, which was posted online. “But I’m the only man in the history of the Russian courts to sit in house arrest after the sentence was issued.”

He described the unexplained technicalities that appeared to prolong his house arrest even though the judge’s ruling had been issued.

“Everyone asks me: ‘Have you already filed the appeal? When will there be an appeal?’” Navalny wrote. “Of course, there is no appeal yet, and there can’t be one. There is no text of the verdict, and there is nothing to appeal. This is the genius stroke of Putin’s justice.”

The embezzlement case, widely understood as retribution for Navalny’s political opposition to Putin, was one of several criminal prosecutions that have been brought against him in recent years.

Oleg Navalny was also convicted in the embezzlement case, but his sentence was not suspended; he was jailed immediately after the verdict was issued.

On the night of the verdict, supporters held an unsanctioned protest just outside the Kremlin walls. Infuriated by his brother’s incarceration, Alexei Navalny set off to join the protesters, still wearing the tracking bracelet, but nonetheless daring the authorities to throw him in jail.

He was intercepted by the police, but they simply returned him to his apartment and posted five officers outside his door. It was unclear if this latest show of defiance would yield a different result.

The Interfax news agency, citing an unidentified law enforcement source, reported that the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service was investigating the report that Alexei Navalny’s bracelet had been removed in violation of the terms of his house arrest. If confirmed, the violation would be reported to the court, Interfax reported.

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