The embezzlement case against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was so outlandish that even calling it a show trial was too generous. Navalny — anticorruption activist and candidate for mayor of Moscow — wasn’t allowed to present any witnesses. The judge, Sergei Blinov, has reportedly never found a defendant “not guilty” in his career. The abnormally harsh five-year sentence handed down Thursday came as a shock, and the judge’s decision to release Navalny on appeal after protests in several cities did not dispel that sentiment.
Navalny’s punishment for criticizing Putin follows another bizarre legal case: the recent posthumous conviction of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison after exposing massive government tax fraud. For the Russian government, it wasn’t enough to arrest Magnitsky for blowing the whistle, or to engineer his death — as many suspect. Authorities took the extraordinary step of convicting him from the grave of the very crimes he sought to expose.