A Russian court on Thursday sentenced political activist and lawyer Alexei Navalny [BBC profile] to five years in prison for embezzling USD $500,000 from a state-owned timber company. Navalny, a strong critic of President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] and a crusader against alleged governmental corruption, declared that the charges against him were baseless [Al Jazeera report]. The verdict against Navalny drew criticism [BBC report] from his supporters, who contend that the proceedings were politically motivated. US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul denounced Navalny's conviction as the product of political motivation. Navalny's aides said that they will appeal the ruling.
Russia has cracked down on dissent recently. In June the UN released a letter [JURIST report] from human rights experts voicing their concern that two Russian non-governmental organizations have been charged by Russian prosecutors following their involvement with the UN Committee against Torture [official website]. In May a Russian court rejected an appeal [JURIST report] by members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot [RASPI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] against their sentence for a protest against Putin. Earlier in May the EU expressed concern [press release, PDF; JURIST report] with Russia's human rights record Sunday, focusing on the country's recent adoption of restrictive legislation, the prosecution of political activists and efforts towards establishing an independent judiciary. Human rights groups have criticized Russia's recent foreign agents law [JURIST report] since its adoption last November. The law requires non-governmental organizations and non-commercial organizations [JURIST op-ed] to register as foreign agents if they engage in any political activity or receive foreign funding.