Russians More Skeptical Over Prosecution of Opposition – Poll

File Photo of Alexei Navalny Being Grabbed by Police at Protest

(RIA Novosti – MOSCOW, September 13, 2013) ­ Public awareness in Russia of two criminal investigations and trials of leading opposition figures is on the rise, and the public is increasingly seeing these issues as politically motivated, a new poll has found.

The survey published by the independent pollster Levada Center yesterday asked respondents about their knowledge of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny and the embezzlement case in which he is embroiled, as well as the so-called Bolotnaya Square criminal case against participants in a May 6 protest rally last year.

The percentage of respondents who “have heard a lot” about Navalny rose to 27 percent as of August 13, from just 18 percent four months ago, the survey said.

A court in Kirov ­ a city about 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of Moscow ­ found Navalny, a protest leader and anti-corruption blogger, guilty in July of embezzling over $500,000 from state-owned timber company KirovLes. Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison, but freed after one day, pending appeal of his sentence, to allow him to continue his campaign for Moscow mayor.

Russians who know about the charges against Navalny are more often interpreting the criminal case against him as politically motivated, the poll showed.

When asked their opinion on the motivation for the case, respondents seemed to waver on whether it took place “in connection with illegal acts,” with the percentage backing this option rising from 28 percent in May to 32 percent in July, but falling back to 25 in August.

Slightly fewer people (44 percent in August, down from 47 in May) percent believe the case came as a retribution for Navalny’s role in exposing corruption in government and large corporations.

13 percent of respondents backed a new response saying the case was designed to prevent Navalny from seeing through his candidacy in the September 8 elections for Moscow mayor ­ an answer added by the Levada Center in August that had not been an option in previous surveys.

Navalny lost that race, as was widely expected, to incumbent Sergei Sobyanin. Many political pundits claimed his candidacy was a political play by the Kremlin to lend legitimacy to the mayoral election, providing an illusion of genuine competition to mollify the protest movement while preventing an actual shift in power.

Public knowledge is also growing about a criminal case against activists who are facing jail time for participating in a mass protest rally on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012 that turned violent, the Levada Center study found.

Thirty-one percent of respondents are now knowledgeable about the Bolotnaya case, up from 23 percent in April, and a growing number of them see that investigation as politically motivated. The percentage of respondents who believe the case was “to intimidate community opposition figures” rose to 66 percent in August, compared to 52 percent in April.

[featured image is file photo from past political demonstration, not necessarily directly related to subject matter of article]