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Russia: the perils of selective justice

The guilty verdict in the trial of Russian anti-corruption activist Aleksey Navalny and his five year prison sentence for alleged embezzlement is a troubling example of selective justice. It calls into question the independence of the judiciary and shows the difficulties faced by those who are vocal in their criticism of the authorities.

Navalny, who declared himself a candidate in September’s election for mayor of Moscow, is a vocal critic of the government, active blogger and leader of an anti-corruption non-governmental organisation.

Irrespective of the merits of the case, which legal experts have called into question, neither the process nor the punishment fit the crime. Russians took to the streets of Moscow on hearing the verdict to protest. Simultaneously, the court where Navalny was tried, released him on bail, pending his appeal.

Maintaining equality before the law

The judiciary is one of the most important pillars of a state and its independence and integrity are the foundations for maintaining the rule of law. Only if all are equal before the law and receive a fair trial, can justice be done. A compromised justice system, one that is used for political purposes, seriously damages the rule of law and also diminishes a state’s ability to fight corruption.

Despite Navlany’s release on bail, the trial and its result raise many questions. Navalny was tried in a criminal court for a civil offense and the severity of his sentence is not consistent with similar cases. Navalny, was convicted of embezzling about US$500,000, a charge he denies. He was given a five year sentence and fined US$15,000. The previous week the former deputy prefect of northern district of Moscow, Joseph Reyhanov, received a five year suspended sentence for embezzling US$9.6 million and no fine.

Such a different outcome in the prosecution of similar cases highlights the problems in the system of rule of law.

Judicial and political corruption can reinforce each other, which is why it is important that not only are the courts seen as independent but that they are consistent in their sentencing, something that appears not to be the case in the Navalny trial.


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