MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court rejected a request by prosecutors to put Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny behind bars during a second trial on theft charges, leaving one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics under house arrest.
Navalny, who is serving a five-year suspended sentence on a theft conviction he says was Putin’s revenge for his opposition, could be jailed for years if found guilty of stealing more than 30 million roubles ($840,200) from two companies through fraud.
But the judge’s decision to prolong his house arrest instead of moving him to a detention facility, as prosecutors and prison authorities had requested, suggests the Kremlin is concerned that jailing him could cause protests.
After gaining prominence with an on-line crusade against the corruption that he says permeates Putin’s government, Navalny emerged from a wave of street protests in 2011-2012 as Russia’s most popular opposition leader.
The initial theft conviction prevents Navalny, 37, from running for office for years. He startled the Kremlin with a strong second-place showing in a Moscow mayoral election last year.
Putin weathered the protests to win a third presidential term in 2012 and critics say the legal pressure on Navalny is part of a intensified clampdown on dissent since his return to the Kremlin. Putin denies he interferes in court cases.
Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Angus MacSwan