MOSCOW (AFP) - A Russian court on Tuesday refused to take legal action after top opposition leader Alexei Navalny defiantly cut short his house arrest by snipping off his security bracelet.
The prominent Kremlin critic was convicted of fraud in a controversial trial late last month and handed a 3 1/2 year suspended sentence.
He argues he is now free but the authorities say he must stay under house arrest until the sentence enters force.
Fuming, the charismatic 38-year-old lawyer on Monday cut off the black security bracelet monitoring his movements and posted a photograph on Twitter.
"I refuse to respect the obligations of my illegal house arrest," he said in his blog, adding that he had removed the security bracelet with the help of a pair of kitchen scissors.
While prison officers visited Navalny on Monday to photograph the cut bracelet, no further action followed.
A Moscow court on Tuesday rejected a complaint from the prison service, saying it cannot "consider such documents after the verdict has been announced in a criminal case," court spokeswoman Yulia Petrova told RIA Novosti news agency.
Russian law "says clearly that a defendant should be immediately freed in the courtroom if there is a guilty verdict with punishment that is not imprisonment," Navalny wrote on his blog.
On Tuesday, Navalny walked out of his Moscow flat and went to a shop to buy milk, he recorded on Twitter.
He then posted a photograph taken by his wife of him being followed back by three men in dark winter clothes.
After the verdict on Dec 30, which also saw Navalny's brother Oleg jailed for three and a half years, Navalny had initially breached his house arrest by heading to a rally of his supporters on Moscow's central Manezhnaya Square, only to be detained by police.
Russia's prison service said then it was notifying the court of Navalny's house arrest violation.
It was unclear Tuesday whether Navalny would eventually face any punishment for his latest act of defiance.
Lawyer Murad Musayev told popular radio station Echo Moskvy that Navalny's "gesture turned out to be effective and practically without danger."
"They won't change his method of detention by now... and a potential harshening of his sentence (for example replacing a suspended sentence with a real one) has nothing to do with breaches of house arrest," Mr Musayev wrote.
"The way he acted is legally clean. But it's another matter that in our 'rule of law,' they could actually put him under arrest," another lawyer, Mr Andrei Buzin, told Moskovsky Komsomolets popular daily.
Navalny and his brother were convicted of defrauding French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher of nearly 27 million roubles (more than half a million dollars at the exchange rate at the time). They denied the charges.