EU 'concerned' about Navalny jailing in Russia; Germany blasts 'show trial'

Russia's top opposition leader Alexei Navalny (centre) stands in the courtroom in Kirov on Thursday, July 18, 2013. The European Union condemned the verdict against Navalny, saying the embezzlement charges were unsubstantiated and that his jailing po
Russia's top opposition leader Alexei Navalny (centre) stands in the courtroom in Kirov on Thursday, July 18, 2013. The European Union condemned the verdict against Navalny, saying the embezzlement charges were unsubstantiated and that his jailing posed serious questions about the rule of law in Russia. -- PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union condemned the verdict against protest leader Alexei Navalny, saying the embezzlement charges were unsubstantiated and that his jailing posed "serious questions" about the rule of law in Russia.

A spokesman for the EU's top diplomat, Ms Catherine Ashton, said she was "concerned about the guilty verdict and the prison sentences handed down today by the Kirov Court" against Navalny and co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov.

The German government's coordinator on Russia also blasted the verdict as the product of a "show trial".

Mr Andreas Schockenhoff told German public radio that the proceedings against Navalny, who was sentenced to five years in a penal colony, were intended to neutralise him as a threat with "repressive measures".

"The Navalny case stands for policies that tolerate no forms of opposition or political competition," Mr Schockenhoff said after the verdict.

Mr Schockenhoff, a lawmaker and the point man on Russia at the German foreign ministry since 2006, said he had serious doubts about the independence of the Russian judiciary.

"There are acquittals in 1 per cent of Russian court cases, but in a political trial there has never been an acquittal," he said.

However, he urged continued European engagement with Moscow, saying it was the only way to lend support to Russian civil society and critics of the government.

Navalny, a charismatic 37-year-old who emerged as a key figure in mass anti-Putin protests that broke out in December 2011, has dismissed the charges against him as absurd and a set-up to end his budding political career.