A Russian court began hearing an appeal by Alexey Navalny, a leading opponent of President Vladimir Putin, against a five-year prison sentence.
Navalny, 37, who in the past two years helped organize the biggest demonstrations against Putin’s 13-year rule, was convicted of embezzling from a state timber company in Kirov, 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of Moscow, on July 18.
Thousands of people in Moscow protested the verdict, which also sparked condemnation by the U.S. and Europe, on the eve of a meeting of Group of 20 finance chiefs in the Russian capital. The Micex Index fell as much as 1.6 percent after the ruling.
Prosecutors in July unexpectedly asked the court to free Navalny pending appeal, a day after he said he’d withdraw from a snap Moscow mayoral election if he remained in prison. The opposition leader came second in the vote last month, scoring 27.2 percent to incumbent Sergei Sobyanin’s 51.4 percent.
Navalny, who arrived today at the regional appeal court in Kirov carrying personal possessions, said he’s confident of overturning the conviction, according to RIA Novosti. The prosecutors are seeking to uphold the five-year sentence.
A lawyer and anti-corruption activist, Navalny has vowed to contest the next presidential election in 2018 and put Putin and his billionaire allies in jail if he wins. His conviction, if upheld, would preclude him from ever holding public office.
Putin, 61, has hardened his response against critics since winning a new six-year presidential term last year. Some protesters have been imprisoned, while economist Sergei Guriev and former chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, critics fearing prosecution, fled Russia this year.