The trial of a leading Russian opposition activist on embezzlement charges reopened Wednesday, as two international human rights groups accused President Vladimir Putin of launching an assault on Russian civil society since returning to the Kremlin in May 2012.
The trial of Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger who helped organize a series of anti-Kremlin protests, resumed in the northern Russian city of Kirov. He is accused of stealing assets worth about $500,000 from a state timber company while he was advising the local governor in 2009.
A new investigation was launched against Navalny last week. Investigators allege that he and his brother, Oleg, defrauded a company out of $119,000.
Navalny, who said earlier this month has said he wants to become the country's next president and jail Mr. Putin, has dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
Meanwhile, in a report released Wednesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Mr. Putin's government of having unleashed a crackdown on Russia's civil society over the past year that is "unprecedented in the country's post-Soviet history."
For its part, London-based Amnesty International said in a report published Wednesday that the first year of Mr. Putin's third term as Russian president has been characterized by the "systematic undermining and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association."
Human Rights Watch noted in its report that Russian authorities have introduced a series of restrictive laws, begun a nationwide campaign of "invasive inspections" of nongovernmental organizations, harassed, intimidated, and imprisoned political activists, and portrayed government critics as "clandestine enemies."