Vladimir Putin’s Russia: Criticize the Government and Your Family Will Be Locked Up in a Penal Colony

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The show trial of one of Vladimir Putin’s chief political critics ended today. He was convicted and banned from political office for ten years, but the sentence was suspended and he immediately joined a protest march upon his release. So what happened next?

The police in Moscow briefly detained the anticorruption crusader and political opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny on Tuesday as he tried to join an unauthorized, antigovernment rally, just hours after a Moscow court had given him a suspended sentence on criminal fraud charges. Yet, in a sign of how unwilling the authorities are to make a martyr of Mr. Navalny, they said later that the police were merely escorting him back to his home, Interfax reported.

Well, that’s not so bad. Maybe Putin is lightening up a bit. Except for one little thing:

His brother Oleg was jailed for three and a half years for the same offence….Navalny’s supporters said the Kremlin was returning to the sinister Soviet-era practice of punishing the relatives of those it disliked. Upon hearing the verdict, mumbled quietly by the judge, Yelena Korobchenko, Alexei Navalny rolled his eyes and looked at his brother.

….Oleg Navalny is the father of two small children and a former executive of the state-owned postal service. Unlike his better known brother, he has never played a role in the Russian opposition movement. His imprisonment in a penal colony seems to echo the Soviet-era practice of arresting the relatives of “inconvenient” people.

So they let Aleksei go free in order to keep him from being a martyr, but tossed his brother into prison as a hostage to his good behavior. Charming. A spokesman admitted that Putin “had been aware of the Navalny case, but that Tuesday’s ruling ‘isn’t important enough to merit a special report’ to the president.” I actually believe this. For Putin, it’s just another day at the office.

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