A Russian appeals court has suspended the five-year prison sentence of anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Navalny was convicted on July 19 of organizing the 2009 theft of some $500,000 from a timber firm after a trial he described as politically motivated. He was unexpectedly released from prison the following day and allowed to continue his mayoral campaign after thousands of supporters protested in central Moscow.
On Wednesday, the appeals court in the northern Russian region of Kirov suspended his five-year sentence, and that of his co-accused, Pyotr Ofitserov.
Born in 1976 outside Moscow
Studied law at Moscow's Peoples' Friendship University
Blogged about Russian politics
Spearheaded legal challenges on behalf of minority shareholders in Russian giants including Gazprom
Became a Yale World Fellow in 2010
Arrested and briefly detained in 2011 following a protest
Registered in 2013 to run for Moscow mayor
Convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison in July 2013
Court suspends his prison sentence in October 2013
Arrested in February 2014 at an unauthorized protest, placed under house arrest
While the suspension of his sentence keeps him out of jail, his conviction prevents him from running in future elections.
Navalny suggested Wednesday that the court ruling was dictated by the Kremlin.
"This decision to suspend my five-year sentence was not made here, it was made personally by Vladimir Putin," he said. "I do not have an idea of what exactly is happening in his head and why he has changed his decision. It is clear that the authorities are doing their utmost to pull me out of the political fight."
Navalny vowed to remain active in Russian politics.
Last month, Navalny sparked protests by thousands of supporters when he declared Russia's September 8 Moscow mayoral election was rigged to hand victory to an ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny said the vote count had many serious violations and demanded a runoff be held between him and Kremlin-backed rival Sergei Sobyanin.
The 37-year-old opposition leader said Monday there was "clear falsification" of votes and Sobyanin's majority was "guaranteed only by fraud."
Results showed incumbent Sobyanin winning a little more than 51 percent of the vote to Navalny's 27 percent.
Kremlin-backed Sobyanin was widely expected to win. He is Russian President Vladimir Putin's former chief of staff. Sobyanin was appointed mayor three years ago.