Russian political activists and human rights campaigners sees new criminal charges against Navalny as pressure on opposition

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has said that the charges brought against him failed to match either his testimony or the testimony given by other witnesses.

"This charge is weird and absurd. The entire essence of my charges was changed apparently in order to be able to say in news programs on TV today that Navalny stole 16 million [rubles] (about $ 500 000). The whole point of this charge runs counter to my testimony and the testimony of other witnesses," Navalny told journalists.

Navalny said that he had been accused earlier of causing damage worth one million rubles.

"But now I am suspected of conspiring with the company's director and embezzling 16 million rubles," he said.

 The opposition activist said he could face up to ten years in prison if found guilty.

"All these jokes that Khodorkovsky stole all oil and Navalny stole all timber reflect roughly what has happened today," Navalny said.

Left Front movement coordinator Sergei Udaltsov said the criminal charges, brought against Navalny in the Kirovles criminal case, are an attempt to put pressure on the opposition.

"It is absolutely clear to me that the authorities were frightened by the popular wrath, and they started a criminal case, and made arrests and conducted searches. A campaign was launched to put pressure on opposition activists," Udaltsov told Interfax on Tuesday.

Other instruments of pressure are being used as well, travel restrictions, for instance, he said.

"These are absolutely interrelated things. It is a political order which aims to put curbs on political activities, and to jail or intimidate its leaders," he said.

The only way out is to intensify political work, Udaltsov said. "If we offer resistance we will have a chance, if we don't, this field will be cleaned-up. The authorities can do that," he added.

The charges brought against Navalny are "a consistent campaign to strangle the civil movement," he said.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the chief of Russia's veteran rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, echoed Udaltsov's view.

"This marks the beginning of a campaign of reprisals against the opposition," Alexeyeva told Interfax on Tuesday.

"What wrong has Navalny done? Attended authorized rallies and openly exposed corruption on the Internet? I fear travel restrictions will be imposed on me, soon, since I am dealing with the Magnitsky case," the 85 year-old rights campaigner said.

"It looks like they have put their hands on him in earnest," she said in remarks about the prosecution of Navalny.

The consequences of this criminal case will be scandalous for the authorities, she said.

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Interfax on Tuesday that Navalny had been charged with organizing large-scale misappropriation of assets at the Kirovles state-run timber company.

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