Actor Pavel Ustinov and lawyer Anatoly Kucherena leave a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 30, 2019.
Actor Pavel Ustinov and lawyer Anatoly Kucherena leave a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 30, 2019.

MOSCOW - The Moscow City Court has changed actor Pavel Ustinov’s 3 1/2-year prison sentence into a one-year suspended sentence amid an outcry over punishments being handed out after a series of pro-democracy rallies over the summer.

The court also ruled on Monday that Ustinov will be put on a two-year probation period.

Ustinov and his lawyer had asked the court to fully acquit the actor, saying his previous conviction for assaulting a law enforcement officer during a rally in August was unjust.

The 23-year-old, who once worked as a National Guard officer, pleaded not guilty, saying he was standing nearby and was not participating in the rally at which activists challenged the refusal by officials to register opposition and independent candidates for Moscow city-council elections that took place on September 8.

Video of Ustinov's arrest appears to back up his claims, and his imprisonment and harsh sentence sparked an outcry among the entertainment community, as well as from teachers, priests, and even some members of the Moscow city council.

After the September 30 ruling, Ustinov's legal team said they would continue to fight for their client's full exoneration.

Police and legal officials have been sharply criticized for their heavy-handed tactics during and after the protests, which drew some of the biggest crowds since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Critics say the convictions have been overly harsh and are an overt attempt to scare off others from joining the protests.

Prosecutors appeared to acknowledge the unjust situation, noting at the start of the appeal hearing on September 26 that Ustinov's sentence was "too severe" and "the convict's reformation is possible without his isolation from society."

On September 20, amid protests challenging his conviction, Ustinov was released from custody by a court and ordered not to leave Moscow before his appeal was ruled upon.