Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny goes on trial

'I am not afraid of them', Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny

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One of Russia's leading opposition figures, Alexei Navalny, has gone on trial for embezzlement.

Federal investigators in Moscow brought the charges over a timber deal in the Kirov region in which he was involved as an unofficial adviser in 2009.

The 36-year-old, known for his blogs denouncing President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party as crooks, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

After a short hearing, the judge adjourned the case for a week.

'Fabricated'

Mr Navalny's trial began at 09:10 local time (05:10 GMT) at the Leninsky court in the remote city of Kirov, 900km (550 miles) north-east of Moscow.

Analysis

Alexei Navalny has been quite clear about the process he is about to enter. He says this is a political trial.

Because he gets no exposure on the state-controlled TV channels, many people in Russia do not even know who he is. But those who have been following him, through the internet and liberal newspapers, tend to agree with his analysis of the prosecution.

He has become a threat to the Russian political establishment. He has hit them where it hurts, by exposing the extraordinary levels of corruption in their ranks. He has written about it with savage ferocity laced with poisonous sarcasm.

Many of the tens of thousands who took to the streets last year were there because of him. He has become one of the Putin government's most successful opponents.

Eventually he attracted the attention of Russia's equivalent of the FBI - the Investigative Committee - which has become an increasingly politicised force. Now, in front of a judge who has not acquitted anyone in more than 130 cases, it seems likely that he is going to prison.

He is accused of involvement in the misappropriation of 16m roubles (£300,000; $500,000) from a timber firm he was advising in 2009 while working as an adviser to Kirov's governor, Nikita Belykh.

Almost immediately, the defence asked the judge for the trial to be adjourned until next month, arguing that lawyers had not had enough time to prepare the case.

Mr Navalny is the most high-profile opposition figure to be tried since anti-Putin protests 16 months ago, which saw the biggest demonstrations in Moscow since the fall of the USSR.

Since Mr Putin's re-election last March, legal action against opposition figures has increased markedly. Tough laws have been passed on public order offences and tight curbs placed on non-governmental organisations.

Dressed in a white shirt and jeans, Mr Navalny told the court he fully backed the proposal to adjourn the case, complaining that it was far from his home in Moscow.

The judge agreed to an adjournment but said the trial would resume on 24 April.

Mr Navalny has accused Mr Putin of personally ordering the case against him and has called the charges "absurd".

In a recent interview with the BBC's Daniel Sandford, Mr Navalny said the charges were "blatantly fabricated".

But he said it was important for the Kremlin to bring this case against him in order to try to discredit him.

"If you put an anti-corruption activist into prison for participating in a political protest, it will only help his publicity. But if you say that he is corrupt…"

Analysts say his conviction would be a major blow to an opposition which for years suffered the lack of a central figure or platform.

Distancing Mr Putin from the case, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the leader would not be following it.

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