Convictions send message: Putin is back

A Moscow court has sentenced businessman Alexey Kozlov to five years in prison for fraud. The verdict is seen as a slap in the face to civil society, which demanded justice and freedom for Kozlov on the latest mass rally for fair elections in Moscow.

Alexey Kozlov was accused of stealing leather company shares using a fradulent scheme in 2006. He claimed he was innocent and his case was trumped-up by former business partner and senator Vladimir Slutsker. Slutsker denied the allegations.

Kozlov’s case was the second “economical” case to draw the widest response after the case of former YUKOS oil company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Kozlov was arrested in 2008 and then sentenced to eight years in prison on fraud charges after having quit his business with Vladimir Slutsker. He spent three-and-a-half years in prison, until in September 2011 his wife — noted Russian journalist and human rights activist Olga Romanova — gained a Supreme Court order for the case to be retried.

This was celebrated as a victory of human rights activism. Romanova has become the voice of prisoners throughout Russia and created an NGO for relatives of businessmen whose cases were fabricated by their influential business partners and corrupted law enforcement authorities. For all of them Kozlov’s release in September became an example of how rights activism can be rewarded for its efforts.

Thousands of people supported Kozlov on a rally on 10 March. Hundreds of them gathered near the court — but only to shout “Shame!” when Kozlov was arrested and convoyed out of the court. The case was retried, but the corrupted judicial system remained.

Alexey Kozlov will be set free in a year and a half, after the court took into consideration three and a half years already served.

Olga Romanova was in charge of the recent Russian rallies against election fraud. She has been one of the most remarkable public critics of Vladimir Putin. Fellow human rights activists believe her husband’s sentence is also the authorities’ “punishment” to her for her activism and independence.  Activists added that this is clearly an attempt to silence her.

Romanova isn’t the only one authorities are trying to silence.

Another member of Pussy Riot punk feminist group Irina Lakhtionova has been arrested on the charge of hooliganism. She is suspected of being involved in an anti-Putin performance in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. As Pussy Riot’s lawyer Nikolay Polozov told Index on Censorship, this goes in the line with repressive politicy against political and civil activists. He is planning to file complaints to European Court of Human Rights.

Finally, on the same day Left Front movement leader Sergey Udaltsov was sentenced to ten days of administrative arrest for allegedly having neglected a policeman’s order after a rally on 10 March. He has announced a hunger strike in protest.

Another opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, was fined 1000 roubles (£21) for breaking the rules of holding rallies, during a mass protest against allegedly fradulent presidential elections on 5 March.

Earlier this week the court refused to release two arrested Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina and activist Taisiya Osipova, from The Other Russia.

Most frequent bloggers’ believe these cases have one message – Vladimir Putin is back.