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Sergei Nikitin on the Navalny Trial: "What we have seen is a parody of a trial "

16 October 2013

Vadim Kobzev, one of the lawyers acting for Aleksei Navalny, has told RAPSI that his client will appeal against the sentence handed down by Kirov regional court. The head of the Russian representative office of Amnesty International, Sergei Nikitin, comments on the situation in conversation with Kommersant-FM presenter Oksana Barykina. 

Source: Kommersant-FM

On Wednesday the sentence given to Aleksei Navalny was changed. He was given a five-year suspended sentence. The second defendant in the KirovLes case – Petr Ofitserov – was given a four-year suspended sentence. 

How do you assess this judgment? Was it unexpected? 

— In fact, it was quite expected. But our evaluation remains the same. We have always said that this while case against Navalny has been politically motivated. What we have seen in practice is a parody of a trial. There were several reasons for this and they have been set out by Amnesty International, and we have said that the original conviction should be quashed. 

For that reason we abide by our opinion that this verdict as well in practice is no different from the first one. The only difference is that instead of of spending five years and four years respectively in prison, Navalny and Ofitsterov will be limited in their freedom of movement. Nonetheless, the conviction remains, and we believe that this is unjust. 

But a suspended sentence is not a term in prison. What do you think, what could have influenced the court’s decision? After all, five years is quite a long sentence. 

— It’s clear that the public reaction to the trial has played a certain role. We all remember what happened in Moscow after the original sentence was handed down. We remember how people went out into the strreets. And we noticed that the police did not attack anyone with batons. I think the reaction of this kind by civil society played a role in what has happened now. 

Moreover, there was a reaction by the international community, and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, gave their opinions. I think this played a role, but I stress that the problem remains that they have been convicted – both Navalny and Ofitserov – and we absolutely disagree with this. 

Do you think an appeal against this judgment will be successful? 

— Let’s see what the chances are for it to succeed. Recently we have been obliged to be pessimistic, but at the same time it’s possible to think that here, possibly, there are some significant chances of success. The charges are clearly controversial in nature. The way in which Navalny’s guilt was allegedly shown gives ground for serious doubts. Therefore if the case is taken up by a professional lawyer, there are chances to succeed. 

You say that there is a very slim chance, but nonetheless, there was also a slim chance that the five-year prison term would be changed to a suspended sentence. For that reason, probably, there is some hope, am I right? 

— We can only guess. Although, of course, the chances for an acquittal, in general, have increased after the two defendants were suddenly released, and one of them was even allowed to take part in the Moscow mayoral elections. This was also a certain signal which made us think that a more liberal decision may follow. But I repeat, not too much should be made of the fact that a person remains in practical terms at liberty. In fact the defendants have been convicted, they are now persons who have been convicted of a crime. 

On the question of the amnesty: the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council Mikhail Fedotov says that Navalny could come under the amnesty. Do you think this is realistic, given Navalny’s political activism? 

— It’s an irony of fate that the name of our organization ‘Amnesty International’ has nothing to do with the legal meaning of the term ‘amnesty’. To be honest, we have no position in relation to an amnesty. We look at the issue from the point of view of violations of human rights. In this case there has quite clearly been a violation of human rights: two people have simply been victims of an attack against them, one because he was engaged in politics, and the other because he was his assistant. 

What we say is that the Russian authorities are using the criminal justice system to persecute those people who criticize them, to suppress the political opposition. For this reason the amnesty, which people are talking about, is not something we are looking into. And again, if there were to be an amnesty, then on the one hand this, of course, would be a good thing that the people have been amnestied. But, on the other hand, we believe that the whole case against Navalny and Ofitserov, from the very beginning, was simply dreamt up and fabricated, and for that reason the verdict must be quashed.