A Russian court has upheld the theft conviction against opposition leader Alexei Navalny but suspended his five-year prison sentence, meaning the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin will not be jailed.
"I think the political motivation of this case is evident to everybody.
Navalny was convicted in July of organising the theft of 16 million roubles ($500,000) from a timber firm in 2009. He had appealed the verdict and sentence, contending the case against him was bogus and politically motivated.
"I think the political motivation of this case is evident to everybody," Navalny said in a cramped courtroom in Kirov, 1,000 km (620 miles) northeast of Moscow on Wednesday.
He accused the trial judge of rubber-stamping a "fabricated indictment".
Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from Moscow, said that Navalny thinks that, rather than him, the Russian judicial system should be on trial.
"He has been a shock to the Kremlin," Chater said. "And they wanted to avoid setting up Navalny as a martyr in prison. It still rules him out of challenging Putin in the next election but, for how long, we don't know yet."
Jailing Navalny, 37, would have kept Putin's most visible critic out of elections for years, curtailing the long-term threat from a rival with presidential ambitions who scored a strong second-place showing in a Moscow mayoral vote last month.
But it may also have revived street protests by Putin's opponents and human rights activists over what they see as a clampdown on dissent since the 61-year-old president started a six-year third term in 2012.
A blogger against corruption among Russia's elite, Navalny helped lead the biggest protests of Putin's rule, which were stoked by allegations of fraud in favour of the ruling United Russia party in the December 2011 parliamentary election.
The protests have faded, but Navalny has emerged as the main opposition leader. A day after his July conviction, Navalny was unexpectedly freed from custody pending appeal, allowing him to continue his campaign for Moscow mayor.
Some analysts say the Kremlin was betting he would suffer a humiliating defeat, but he won 27 percent of the vote and nearly forced the incumbent, Putin's ally Sergei Sobyanin, into a runoff.