A court has jailed activists for clashing with police during protests over Vladimir Putin's return to Russia’s presidency in 2012. The defense attorney intends to file a long-shot appeal despite the judge's decision.
A court on Monday sentenced four Russians detained during a 2012 protest against President Vladimir Putin. Critics called the trial part of a Kremlin campaign to stifle dissent with all eyes on Ukraine. The May 2012 protests left dozens of police injured and 400 people detained.
Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky District Court jailed Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin for three-and-a-half years, for taking part in mass protests and the "use of violence against a representative of the authority that does not endanger human life or health." The court also jailed Ilya Gushin for 30 months and gave another woman a suspended sentence for the same offense.
On Monday, three people outside the central Moscow court - the same one that had sent the Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky to prison for a decade on disputed business charges - unfurled a banner reading "Russia is not a prison" in defiance of the regime. Police bundled them into a waiting security van.
The tumult surrounding Putin's return to the presidency in 2012 - following his four years as prime minister with current Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev as president - spread briefly to other big cities and showed the first broad dissent since he became Boris Yeltsin's anointed successor in 1999. Kremlin officials even accused US agents of plotting the unrest to unseat Putin and then launched a political crackdown on opposition and dissent.
In an amnesty to improve Russia's international image ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin released four of the 13 people previously jailed during the lengthy "Bolotnaya" trial, named after the square where the protests were held. The organizers Sergei Udaltsov (pictured) and Leonid Razvozzhayev, however, continue to serve their four-and-a-half-year jail sentences.
Putin's critics call the prosecution of more than a dozen protesters a crackdown to silence dissent. Amnesty International has denounced the entire process as "political."
Memorial, one of Russia's oldest nongovernmental organizations, has added the four protesters sentenced Monday to a list of 45 people it describes as political prisoners. The NGO alleges that the defendants had carried out a nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and that authorities had imposed disproportionate charges and deprived them of a fair trial.
mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)