Update at 11:25 a.m.
Moscow police have arrested Alexei Navalny, the opposition figure and critic of President Vladimir Putin, for breaking the terms of his house arrest — just hours after a court found him guilty on fraud charges and handed him a suspended prison sentence of 3 1/2 years.
His brother Oleg Navalny was sent to prison for the same period.
Images posted on Twitter, and retweeted by Navalny, showed him being detained. The opposition leader also confirmed that he had been detained.
Navalny and his brother were convicted this morning of defrauding Yves Rocher, a French cosmetics company, fined about $9,000 each and ordered to pay about $77,000 in damages.
The suspended sentence means Navalny could be sent to prison if he is seen to break the law again. He has been under house arrest since February, but soon after today’s verdict, he broke his house arrest, posting a picture of himself on Twitter heading to an opposition rally in Moscow.
“Yes, there is this house arrest. But today I want to be with you. So I’m coming,” he said in the tweet.
Navalny was a leader of the mass protests by opposition groups in Moscow three years ago. Since then, the government has brought criminal cases against him. NPR’s Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit: “Critics say the government is trying to neutralize Navalny as a political figure but also trying to intimidate the opposition.”
Today’s verdict was scheduled for January, but by moving the decision forward to the day before New Year’s Eve, the country’s biggest holiday, Russian authorities may have been trying to stem any protests. It’s unclear whether that move will have any effect. Nearly 20,000 people said on Facebook that they will take part in a protest in Moscow tonight. The AP reported that several thousand people had gathered outside the Kremlin in what was described as an unsanctioned protest.