Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny released

Navalny spent 15 days in custody after being convicted in December on charges allegedly stemming from handing out leaflets on the metro

MOSCOW – Leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was released Friday after spending 15 days in custody and vowed that he and his supporters will not be intimidated by the slaying of a top Kremlin critic.

Navalny, the driving force behind the 2011-2012 mass protests in Moscow, said the killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov will not force him to scale down his campaign against President Vladimir Putin’s government.

“This act of terror hasn’t achieved its goal, it will not frighten me or my comrades,” Navalny said after his release. “We will not reduce our efforts, we will not step back.”

Navalny walked free after serving the sentence handed down by a Moscow court, which found him guilty of violating the law when he distributed leaflets in the subway campaigning for an opposition rally. The protest was turned into a mourning march to pay tributes to Nemtsov.

Nemtsov, 55, a former deputy prime minister and one of Putin’s most vehement critics, was killed just outside the Kremlin hours after a radio interview in which he denounced the president for his “mad, aggressive” policies in Ukraine. Before his death, Nemtsov was working on a report about Russian involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.

No suspects have been detained in the killing, despite an reward of 3 million rubles (nearly US$50,000) offered for information related to the case.

Kremlin critics say the spiteful nationalist propaganda on state television, which cast Nemtsov and other liberals as Western stooges, helped prepare the ground for his killing. Many believe that his shooting death in a tightly secured area near the Kremlin wouldn’t have been possible without official involvement, and could be an attempt to scare other government foes.

Putin dubbed Nemtsov’s killing a “provocation.” The nation’s top investigative agency echoed that comment, saying it was looking into whether Nemtsov had been a “sacrificial victim” to destabilize Russia. It said it was also investigating whether Islamic extremism, the Ukraine conflict and Nemtsov’s personal life were possible motives.

A court rejected Navalny’s plea for early release to attend Nemtsov’s funeral Tuesday.

Navalny was convicted in late December of fraud and given a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence and ordered to remain under house arrest until his appeals were exhausted. He has repeatedly violated his house arrest since then.

Navalny’s brother was imprisoned under the verdict, which many see as a vendetta by the Kremlin.

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