“The decision is a disturbing development in our view, and it appears to be designed to further punish and deter political activism,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. “This appears to be another example of the Russian government's growing crackdown on independent voices.”
A Moscow court ordered Russian opposition blogger and lawyer Alexei Navalny to serve a three-and-a-half year probation and pay $8,972 (500,000 rubles) in fines following his conviction on fraud charges. The charges, against Alexei and his brother Oleg, are largely seen as politically motivated.
Oleg was sentenced to three-and-a-half years years in prison and is required to pay the same half million-ruble fine. The brothers intend to appeal the verdict.
Alexei Navalny achieved notariety for his anti-corruption blogging, but his association with Russian grass-roots opposition in 2011 and 2012 drew the ire of the Kremlin.
In 2013, a court convicted Navalny of embezzlement in connection with a state-owned timber company. That case was widely seen as being politically-motivated.
The verdict and sentencing were originally scheduled for Jan. 15. The timeframe was sped up Monday evening, however, when it was announced that the sentencing would take place on the morning of Dec. 30.
It is widely suspected that this move was calculated to avoid protests, which had been planned for Jan. 15 in Moscow's Manezh Square. But nearly 1,500 were drawn to neighboring Red Square on Tuesday night to protest against the sentences before being dispersed by police.
Minor scuffles with police were reported.