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In Russia, government prosecutors have brought criminal charges against a leading dissident named Alexei Navalny. He writes a popular blog that exposes corruption in the Russian government, and he helped lead the anti-government protest this past winter. Navalny says the charges are part of a campaign to crack down on opposition to the regime of President Vladimir Putin. NPR's Corey Flintoff has the story from Moscow.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Before he entered the prosecutors' office, Navalny told reporters that he expected to be charged.
ALEXEI NAVALNY: (Foreign language spoken)
FLINTOFF: For the past four years, he said, the Putin regime has been threatening to take action against him. In his words: I'm not happy about it, but it's part of the job. Navalny's self-appointed job has been to write about government corruption and shady dealings in his blog. The 36-year-old lawyer emerged as the most charismatic of the opposition leaders, working the crowds at anti-Putin rallies with a high-energy, call-and-response style.
MASHA LIPMAN: I think of all people who are prominent in the protests, he has the largest grant to call himself a leader. And this makes him a scary challenge for the government.
FLINTOFF: That's Masha Lipman, an editor and media analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. She says there's a potential danger for the government in prosecuting such a popular figure.
LIPMAN: And nobody knows actually what happens if he is jailed. Would this act as an intimidating signal to the people, or would it radicalize the protest?
FLINTOFF: Navalny has been arrested several times already. Along with other opposition leaders, he served a 15-day sentence after a protest in May. That prompted Amnesty International to declare him a prisoner of conscience. In June, Navalny was one of several opposition figures whose homes and offices were searched by Moscow prosecutors. Government critics say the actions are signs that newly re-elected President Putin is prepared to crack down hard on dissent. But analyst Alexei Mukhin of the Center for Political Information in Moscow says he thinks any harsh government action against Navalny now would help him raise his profile among the Russian people.
ALEXEI MUKHIN: (Foreign language spoken)
FLINTOFF: Mukhin says public opinion polls show that although Navalny is well-known among the Internet community, he has very little name recognition among ordinary Russians, most of whom get their news from state-run television. The charges against Navalny allege that he was part of a scheme to steal government-owned timber several years ago when he was an advisor to a regional governor. Navalny was investigated on similar charges last year, but the case was dropped for lack of evidence. This time, the charges are more severe, and a conviction could bring as much as ten years in jail. In an interview on the independent Diozhd TV, Navalny said he's been told he should regard the charges as a gift that will draw more attention to his work, but he said he's also aware of the dangers.
NAVALNY: (Foreign language spoken)
FLINTOFF: On the one hand, he said, he's glad that he is making enough problems for the regime to scare them, but he's not happy knowing that - in his words - sooner or later, they will put me in prison. Navalny has been barred from leaving the country while the investigation continues. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.
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