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Niinistö: Navalny judgement would not happen in Finnish legal system

Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment on Tuesday for breaching conditions on his probation.

According to Niinistö, it remains to be seen how the opposition forces in Russia will react to the court ruling. Archive image from March last year. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö has said that Alexei Navalny's sentencing by a Moscow court would not happen in a western European legal system, but did not speculate on why the sentence was handed down.

Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment on Tuesday for breaching conditions on his probation. The breach happened when Navalny was in Berlin receiving care for poisoning symptoms last summer.

According to Niinistö, a similar verdict would not be given in Finnish and European justice systems.

"Navalny was poisoned, and he was allowed to travel to Germany. He returned to Russia willingly, but two weeks late, which had severe consequences," Niinistö told Yle.

Opposition leader Navalny has blamed Russia's president Vladimir Putin for the verdict. Niinistö did not take a direct stance on whether he thinks Putin was responsible for the verdict in one way or another.

"I am not going to evaluate that at all. I am not familiar with Russian law," he said.

Navalny has called on his supporters to demonstrate against his sentencing decision and against Putin's regime. Several demonstrations have already been organised across Russia, and thousands of people have been arrested.

According to Niinistö, it remains to be seen how the opposition forces in Russia will react to the court ruling, and how the Russian government responds to demonstrations.

An investigation by the Bellingcat website found evidence to suggest that agents from the Russian intelligence agency the FSB were behind Navalny's poisoning.

"This case shows how harshly opposition representatives and political challengers can be dealt with," said Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.

"This casts a long shadow over democracy," continued Haavisto. "As there are elections to the Duma this year, this shows a desire to keep one challenger out of the elections."