Russia has been continually pushed on the matter of democracy and human rights through a series of high-profile cases against opposition figures and critics of President Vladimir Putin. Last year, the punk band Pussy Riot became a cause celebre for the Russian opposition and Western observers after their arrest following a protest concert at an Orthodox Church. Currently, the leading opposition figure is Alexei Navalny, a Russian lawyer and political activist. Previously involved with liberal party Yabloko, Navalny uncovered high-level corruption in the Putin government, particularly with state-owned oil company Transneft, where he revealed that executives stole $4 billion from a Siberian pipeline project.
In response, the Russian government indicted Alexei Navalny on charges of embezzlement and fraud, accusing him of pilfering money from a state-owned timber company KirovLes. Today, the courts in Kirov convicted him of the charges, which include a jail sentence of up to five years. Supporters of Navalny responded quickly, and have taken to protest the conviction. Already, thousands are protesting in St. Petersburg and Moscow, and state and military police have been dispatched to contain the protesters.
Various reports of police suppression have already been encountered, with at least 60 detained in Manezhnaya Square in Moscow. Meanwhile, in response to the conviction, the Prosecutor's Office in Kirov has requested a partial appeal on Navalny's sentence, requesting he be free until the verdict goes into effect. Meanwhile, the same day of his conviction, Navalny filed papers for the September 17 mayoral election in Moscow, under the banner of the Republican Party of Russia-People's Freedom Party.