A Russian court has released opposition leader Alexei Navalny from custody less than 24 hours after convicting him of embezzlement and sentencing him to five years in prison.
The release came after a surprise request by prosecutors, who said that because Navalny is a candidate in this autumn’s Moscow mayoral race, keeping him in custody would deny him his right to seek election.
The release is to last until all appeals against his conviction are completed.
A smiling Navalny emerged from the caged-off defendants’ section of the courtroom and thanked supporters who held protest rallies yesterday after his conviction.
The charismatic anti-corruption blogger was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled 16 million rubles (€375,000) of timber from state-owned company Kirovles in 2009 while he worked as an unpaid adviser to the provincial governor in Kirov, about 750km east of Moscow.
That was the same year that Navalny, a lawyer, started an anti-corruption blog that attracted a wide following and made him one of the key figures of the nascent opposition to Vladimir Putin and the dominant United Russia party.
Navalny called United Russia “the party of crooks and thieves”, a phrase that became a rallying cry.
He was a leader of the wave of massive protest rallies that broke out in late 2011 after a national parliamentary election scarred by allegations of widespread fraud.
More recently, he pushed his ambitions by declaring himself a candidate for the capital’s mayoral election.