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Russia court upholds guilty verdict of opposition leader

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Aleksey Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition figure, speaks during an election campaign in his office in St. Petersburg on February 4, 2014. (Photo by AP)

A Russian court has upheld a guilty verdict in the case of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, giving him a five-year suspended sentence and technically disqualifying him as a candidate for the presidential election in 2018.

Judge Alexei Vtyurin, presiding over the hearing in Kirov, a city nearly 800 kilometers east of Moscow, said Navalny was guilty of embezzling timber worth about $500,000 during his time as an advisor to Kirov’s governor in 2009.

The verdict comes four years after Navalny was found guilty in an initial trial in Kirov and was sent to prison. He was released after a night and was allowed to run for Moscow's mayor in a 2013 election, in which he garnered a third of the votes and came in second.

The opposition leader had announced plans in December that he would run for president in 2018. Russia’s law bars people with criminal record from running for the office for at least 10 years after a guilty verdict is issued.

The lengthy retrial of Navalny became more complicated in 2016, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his right to a fair trial had been violated.

Russia’s Supreme Court then scrapped the initial verdict and ordered fresh proceedings.

During a break in the hearing on Wednesday, Navalny told reporters that the new ruling was quite identical to the one issued in 2013.

"You can come over and see that the judge is reading exactly the same text, which says a lot about the whole trial," Navalny said, adding that even the typos in the two verdicts were the same.

"According to the constitution I have a full right to take part in the elections and I will do that, I will continue to represent the interests of people who want to see Russia a normal, honest and non-corrupt country," Navalny said.

Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny speaks to reporters during a break in the judicial proceedings against him in Kirov, nearly 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Moscow, February 8, 2017. (Photo released by Russia’s Sputnik News agency)

Navalny rose to prominence by leading anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012. Many said the judicial proceedings against him were supported by the Kremlin to bar him from the presidency.

Navalny's campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, said it was up to the Kremlin to finally disqualify the opposition leader from the next presidential race.

"This is the political decision we need to win by campaigning," Volkov said in a post on Facebook on Wednesday, adding that the campaign will continue even though the guilty verdict formally bars Navalny from running.

The court in Kirov has yet to officially pronounce Navalny's verdict.

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