Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny grimaces as he listens in a court room in Kirov, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. A Russian courthouse in Kirov set Navalny free in July, the day after he was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison. Navalny has appealed both the conviction and the sentence. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman)
KIROV, Russia (AP) — A Russian court on Wednesday suspended a five-year prison sentence for a top opposition leader but upheld his conviction for theft, preventing him from running in future elections.
Alexei Navalny was convicted on embezzlement charges and sentenced to prison on July 18, but was released the next day in what some considered a ploy to make the Moscow mayoral race, where he was registered as a candidate, look as competitive as possible.
Navalny garnered an unexpected 27 percent against the Kremlin-backed incumbent. His growing public profile has made it increasingly risky for the Kremlin to put him behind bars.
A judge in the court in Kirov, 760 kilometers (460 miles) east of Moscow, read out the decision Wednesday. According to Russian law, even a suspended sentence would eliminate Navalny from political office for life.
Navalny lambasted the trial, saying during the Wednesday session that the original sentence had been handed down "on instructions from Moscow" and that the "political motivation of this case is absolutely clear."
The charges against Navalny date back a few years to when he worked as an unpaid adviser to the provincial governor in Kirov. Prosecutors said he was part of a group that in 2009 embezzled 16 million rubles' ($500,000) worth of timber from the state-owned company Kirovles. He has denied the charges.
Navalny, who spent much of the court session tweeting, was characteristically sarcastic and upbeat.
Mills reported from Moscow.
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