A Russian court on Wednesday (October 16) upheld the theft conviction against opposition leader Alexei Navalny but suspended his five-year prison sentence, meaning the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin will not be jailed.
Navalny, 37, was convicted in July of organising the theft of 16 million roubles ($500,000) from a timber firm in 2009. He had appealed the verdict and sentence, contending the case against him was fabricated and politically motivated.
A blogger against corruption among Russia's elite, Navalny helped lead the biggest protests of Putin's rule, which were stoked by allegations of fraud in favour of the ruling United Russia party in the December 2011 parliamentary election.
The protests have faded, but Navalny has emerged as the main opposition leader. A day after his conviction, Navalny was unexpectedly freed from custody pending appeal, allowing him to continue his campaign for Moscow mayor.
Jailing Navalny would have kept Putin's most prominent critic out of elections for years, curtailing any threat from a rival with presidential ambitions who scored a strong second-place showing in a Moscow mayoral vote last month.
Some analysts say the Kremlin was betting he would suffer a humiliating defeat, but he won 27 percent and nearly forced the incumbent, Putin's ally Sergei Sobyanin, into a runoff.
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