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CPJ calls for Aleksei Navalny's release in Russia

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Anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny has been convicted and sentenced to five years. (AP/Dmitry Lovetsky)

New York, July 18, 2013--Russian authorities must free on appeal the anti-corruption blogger and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny, who was convicted on politicized charges of embezzlement today and sentenced to five years in prison, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Navalny was jailed immediately after the verdict was announced, according to news reports.

"Aleksei Navalny's imprisonment has a terrible chilling effect on investigative reporting and further shrinks the space for freedom of expression in Russia," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "We call on the courts to overturn this conviction, which was clearly intended to halt both Navalny's political activities and his work in exposing corruption."

Navalny's conviction stems from a 2009 case that is widely seen as politically motivated and had once been closed by authorities for a lack of evidence. Prosecutors alleged that Navalny had defrauded a state-owned company while he was working as a volunteer aide to the regional governor of Kirov. Navalny has denied the charge.

Navalny was propelled to fame as a blogger and leader of Russia's opposition movement. He is running in Moscow's September mayoral election and has declared presidential ambitions. His activities as an anti-corruption blogger appeared to have drawn special attention from authorities. In an April interview, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Izvestiya: "If a person tries with all his strength to attract attention or, if I can put it, teases authorities--'Look at me, I'm so good compared to everyone else'--well, then interest in his past grows and the process of exposing him naturally speeds up."

The decision by the Leninsky District Court in Kirov drew thousands of protesters to the streets across the country.

News reports cited Navalny's defense lawyers as saying that they will appeal the verdict within 10 days.

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