News / Europe

Russian Police Detain Protesters Outside Trial Over Anti-Putin Rally

Punk protest band Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina is detained by police at a protest in central Moscow February 24, 2014.
Punk protest band Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina is detained by police at a protest in central Moscow February 24, 2014.
Reuters
— Russian riot police detained hundreds of Kremlin opponents on Monday, moving swiftly to curb protests over the jailing of activists convicted of attacking police at a rally against President Vladimir Putin.

With the turmoil in Ukraine adding to tension between the Kremlin and its opponents, Putin foes including Alexei Navalny and members of protest band Pussy Riot were hauled away twice by police, first outside a courthouse and later near the Kremlin.

A judge sentenced seven men to prison terms ranging from 2-1/2 to four years after finding them guilty of rioting and violence against police at a protest on May 6, 2012 -- the day before Putin returned to the presidency for a third term.

The prison sentences and the detention of activists protesting them drew criticism from Europe, adding to strains between Russia and the West at a time when they are deeply at odds over the future of Ukraine.

Outside the court, activists who blame police for clashes at the 2012 anti-Putin rally shouted “shame” and “Maidan” - a reference to the Kiev square at the center of protests that led to the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

Relatives and lawyers of the seven said they believed the upheaval in Ukraine, where police were among the dead in a conflict the Kremlin blames on opposition leaders and the West, had prompted the court to impose prison sentences as a signal that such actions would not be tolerated in Russia.

“These sentences are cruel and wrong. They were handed down because of the political situation,” said defense lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky, who said he would appeal against his client's conviction. “We hope our appeal will show that they made a mistake and the defendants won't have to answer for the Maidan.”

A Russian state TV news show host linked the trial with the events in Ukraine in a broadcast on Sunday, saying the bloodshed that killed at least 82 people in Kyiv last week had started with actions similar to the 2012 Moscow protest.

Russian authorities say the convicts came to Moscow's Bolotnaya Square bent on rioting and attacked police with improvised weapons such as rocks, bottles and chunks of asphalt.

Kremlin critics say police started the violence in a deliberate attempt to discredit the opposition and quash a wave of protests as Putin, in power since 2000, started a six-year third presidential term. They describe the convicts as victims of a “show trial” designed to suppress dissent.

Uphill battle

The British Foreign Office said the sentences highlighted “concerns felt by many about the restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression in Russia”.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who visited Ukraine on Monday, said it raised questions about the rule of law and “concerns as to the impact of such trials on the exercise of freedom of expression and assembly in Russia”.

“The arrest of dozens of people who had gathered outside the court to hear the verdict is an additional source of concern,” she added.

Opposition activists said more than 230 people were detained by riot police who grabbed protesters and dragged them to waiting busses. Police put the figure at more than 100.

Pussy Riot's Maria Alyokhina tweeted a photo of her and bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova with the wire-mesh window of a police van as backdrop.

They were released but detained again after dark, when police mounted major presence outside the Kremlin and prevented protesters from gathering, halting people at metal barriers and subway exits. Activists said more than 315 people were detained, while Moscow police put the number at about 70.

The modest crowds indicated that even with a jolt of inspiration from the protests that put Ukraine's Russian-backed president to rout, Putin's opponents would face an uphill battle in reviving the demonstrations that alarmed the Kremlin when they erupted after a disputed parliamentary election in 2011.

Putin remains by far the most popular politician in Russia.

In December, he engineered the release of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina in an amnesty and freed long-jailed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky with a pardon - moves widely seen as an effort to improve his image before the 2014 Winter Olympics, a prestige project that ended on Sunday in Sochi.

After reading part of the verdict on Friday, trial judge Natalya Nikishina abruptly called a break until Monday, stirring speculation the Kremlin wanted to keep the sentences under wraps until after the Olympic closing ceremony.

One of the eight defendants, a 20-year-old woman, was given a suspended sentence that will allow her to avoid jail.

Putin denies interfering in court cases, but has said anyone who attacks police must be punished. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment on the verdict or sentences.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid