Outspoken anti-corruption crusader and whistleblower Alexei Navalny may face up to 10 years in prison in Russia for money laundering.
Just weeks ago, a Russian court suspended a sentence he was serving for charges on embezzlement. This suggests that the siloviki (men of force) faction in the Kremlin is trying to send the popular politician to the camps. Political opposition and Navalny himself view these accusations as yet another instance of Russian President Vladimir Putin using the courts to stifle political dissent.
Navalny’s strong anti-corruption views galvanized a string of protests in 2011–2012 after the stolen parliamentary elections and a questionable presidential poll. Over 100,000 Muscovites took to the streets accusing Putin of rigging the parliamentary election.
In July, a local court convicted Navalny of embezzling 16 million roubles (roughly $500,000) worth of timber while advising the local governor. The charges were sheer nonsense, as Navalny has not signed any relevant papers and did not participate in the allegedly fraudulent business transaction.
An appeal of his five-year prison sentence on October 16 resulted in a suspended sentence, but the conviction will keep him from running in Russia’s 2018 presidential election. Steve Rosenberg of the BBC notes that, had Navalny been acquitted, he could have been a potential opposition candidate to Putin.
The Russian government’s abuse of the legal system is hardly news. It first used Russian courts to try to convict political opponent and oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky twice: for tax evasion and “oil theft.” Since then, the Kremlin has suppressed a litany of dissenters. Media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky was arrested in the early 2000s and had his television network seized by the state. Members of the notorious rock band Pussy Riot fell victim to “telephone justice” after a 2012 demonstration.
Twelve Russians are currently facing a show trial after participating in May 2012 protests in Bolotnaya Square on the day of the presidential inauguration.
Greenpeace environmental activists, including Americans, are being held in Russia on hooliganism charges and face possible seven-year jail sentences for protesting against Arctic oil and gas exploration in Russian territorial waters.
There should be serious international repercussions for the repeated human rights violations and refusal to adhere to the rule of law. The Heritage Foundation has repeatedly asserted that in order for U.S.–Russian relations to improve, Russia must take steps to implement a domestic agenda that promotes not only human rights and the rule of law but also economic freedom and good governance standards.
The persecution of Khodorkovsky, Sergey Magnitsky, and Navalny should be scrutinized all over the world. As long as rampant corruption of the Russian judicial system continues, the Russian people and economy will suffer, while U.S.–Russian relations will continue to deteriorate.
Doug MacGillivray is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.