Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny was given a new five-year suspended prison sentence on February 8 in a retrial of an embezzlement case, despite the charges being dropped against him last November.
Unless overturned, the new sentence disqualifies Navalny from his campaign to be elected for the Russian presidency in 2018, when Vladimir Putin is expected to seek a fourth term.
The anti-corruption campaigner was first found guilty and given the same sentence in a 2013 trial that was regarded as highly politicised. The Russian Supreme Court overturned that conviction in November 2016 under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights.
The retrial began in January and has been dubbed by critics as a copy of the first, engineered to knock Navalny out of the running in the 2018 elections. Navalny, a former lawyer, portrayed the retrial as a farce, claiming the new verdict directly copied comments on witness testimony from the last trial.
"I know this is contempt of court, but I couldn't resist. It's so boring in here. They're just reading out the old sentence," Navalny tweeted as he posted a selfie from the court room.
Navalny, 40, emerged as a prominent liberal opposition figure in 2011 amid protests in Russian cities over fraudulent parliamentary elections. After his first sentence was quashed, he pledged in December to run for president on an anti-corruption platform, as well as promising to raise wages and pensions, and reform the police and judiciary.
He would be unlikely to pose a serious challenge to Putin, who has not yet confirmed his candidacy in 2018, but is expected to easily secure another six years in the Kremlin. However, Navalny's campaign website notes that when he ran for office in Moscow's mayoral elections in 2013 he gained 27% of the votes, more than all other opposition candidates combined.
The two trials centred on charges that Navalny stole timber from the state-owned company Kirovles in the city of Kirov in 2013.
Under Russian law, the guilty verdict automatically bars him from holding public office for 10 years after the completion of his sentence. However, his campaign manager Leonid Volkov said Navalny's quest for election would continue.