Government advances Alexi Navalny verdict to today

What happens when prosecutors charge a man with stealing more lumber than the timber company actually produces annually? In Russia, you find the person guilty.

Observers point out that the criminal conviction rate in Russia is over 97%–slim chances for anyone arrested eventually being found innocent.

Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg.
Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg.

Alexei Navalny was back in court, charged along with his brother Oleg for supposedly stealing over $500,000 from French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher.

There is only one small problem: Yves Rocher has no knowledge of the theft and has refused to cooperate with Russian prosecutors in the case.

After a very brief trial, and defense lawyers are very limited in how they can participate in Russian criminal trials, the verdict was expected to be announced on 15 January. Expecting the all-too-usual guilty finding for those who refuse to toe the Kremlin line, opposition forces began to circulate plans via social media for mass street protests after the verdict.

The Russian government moved in and forced Internet services to remove the protest notices, on the grounds of public security. Facebook and others complied, but some say the announcement by Google that it was pulling units out of Russia was an indication of the heavy handed style of dealing with the Kremlin. Just this week the top Russian social media site, Vkontake, fired its founder who was replaced by a Kremlin backed successor. The founder, Pavel Durov, fled Russia this week.

Late Monday afternoon a message appeared on Navalny’s website that read, “Five minutes ago we were informed that the verdict will be tomorrow, Dec. 30 at 9 a.m.”

Navalny has been under house arrest since earlier this spring. One ominous note, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was also sentenced on secondary charges on the same date: 30 December.

Opposition organizers say that have moved the protest up to 7pm on Tuesday at the Manezh Square. The Manezh Square (Манежная площадь) is located just steps from the Kremlin in the centre of Moscow. Manezhnaya connects the areas of the State Historical Museum, the Aleksandr Gardens, and the Tverskoy district to the Iberian Gates entrance at Red Square.