Anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, a vocal Kremlin critic who led some of Moscow’s massive 2011-2012 street protests against alleged electoral fraud and the rule of President Vladimir Putin, appeared in court on Wednesday in the central Russian city of Kirov. Investigators accuse him of heading a criminal group that embezzled about $500,000 in a timber deal. Navalny and his supporters say the charges have been fabricated to discredit him and stymie his political activity. RIA Novosti reporter Marc Bennetts is in Kirov following the case.
Live updates have been suspended as the hearing has been adjourned.
All times below – Moscow time.
9:46 Judge Sergei Blinov has adjourned the hearing into the case until April 24, at the request of the defense lawyers. They say they need more time to familiarize themselves with the case because a new lawyer is now involved.
9:27 Some 30 pro-Kremlin supporters are standing opposite the pro-Navalny protesters. “I’m against Navalny because I support the accusation against him,” says Kirov student Yevgeny Mitilov. “I’m not interested in Navalny’s claims that Putin and his associates are corrupt. I realize Russia sells a lot of oil and gas, but I don’t care what happens to that money. It’s not my business.”
He then chants “a thief should sit in jail.” This was Putin’s comment ahead of the verdict in former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s second trial in 2010.
9:25 – “We support Navalny because he is doing the right thing in fighting against corruption,” says 1st year student Konstantin Barfarmov. “But most people in Kirov don’t know much about what’s going on.
9:15 – Around 100 Navalny supporters, plus some curious onlookers, have gathered next to the court now. “If we let them jail Navalny, then nothing will stop the authorities. They will jail all their political opponents,” supporter Nikolai Lyaskin tells the crowd, before city officials order him to turn off his megaphone. “I expected more people,” he tells RIA after police take away his megaphone. “But I’m hoping the trial will get more attention as it goes on.”
Court officials refused to transfer the trial to Moscow, where Navalny enjoys by far the most support. It’s an 11-hour journey by train from Moscow to Kirov.
8:45 – “There’s no room, they won’t let you in,” says Nemtsov, as Navalny arrives at court. Unsurprisingly, officials find space for Navalny in court.
8:30 – Row at court entrance as officials tell waiting journalists the court room is full.
8:15 – Crowd of Navalny supporters starting to build up in front of court now. “Russia without Putin!” chants a protester through a megaphone. Fellow protest leader and Yeltsin-era Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov is among those who have travelled to Kirov to support Navalny.
8:00 – Lone Navalny supporter standing opposite the court with a sign that reads “we will not forgive, we will not forget.” Light police presence so far. But massive scrum of journalists waiting to get into court.
7:50 – Navalny supporters gathering not far from the court next to a “Putin is a thief” banner. Locals in Kirov, a small city some 500 miles from Moscow, seemed bemused by the attention. “Is that Navalny, or what’s his name?” asks a taxi driver.
7:35 – Alexei Navalny and his wife, Julia, arrive at Kirov’s central train station, where they are met by some two dozen journalists.
“I feel great,” says Navalny, adding that the charges against him are “senseless.” His wife doesn’t look so happy.
Just to remind you all, Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption crusader who led mass protests against President Vladimir Putin’s rule, is in Kirov to face charges of embezzlement on a grand scale. Investigators allege he used his influence while adviser to the governor of the Kirov Region, Nikita Belykh, to pressure a local official into selling timber to a company run by an acquaintance at a price unfavorable to the region. Navalny has called the charges “strange and absurd.”