Russia jails opposition leader after hundreds detained for protest

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia on Tuesday jailed opposition protest leader Alexei Navalny for 'disobeying police' after more than 400 people were detained at a demonstration in central Moscow.

In the largest wave of arrests in nearly two years, police rounded up some 420 protesters on Monday evening as they demonstrated against the jailing of a group of activists opposed to President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, a charismatic lawyer who came second in last year's Moscow mayoral race, was sentenced to a week behind bars for resisting police.

"Alexei Navalny got 7 days," his spokeswoman Anna Veduta wrote on Twitter.

The judge said he "shouted out slogans" and then "after his detention hindered police... waved his arms around and dug his heels in," the RAPSI legal news agency reported.

Navalny is serving a suspended five-year jail sentence for embezzlement after a controversial trial last year.

In court on Tuesday he denied the charge though added he was aware that such actions could jeopardise his freedom.

So far, three others have been jailed for 10 days over the Monday protest including opposition politician and former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov.

Hundreds gathered near Red Square late Monday to support activists jailed earlier that day for staging "mass riots" in May 2012, a key case seen as a symbol of the harsh crackdown on dissent under Putin's latest term.

Police detained almost all the demonstrators and pressed charges of taking part in an unsanctioned rally or resisting police.

Amnesty International condemned the detentions, saying: "The Russian authorities' rampant violation of freedom of expression and assembly shows no sign of letting up."

Many of those detained had been arrested and released earlier in the day at a separate rally outside the Moscow court that handed out the sentences in the May 2012 case, the last time Russian police had rounded up so many protesters at once.

The detentions came a day after the closing of the Winter Olympic Games in Russia's southern resort of Sochi and against the backdrop of months of the unrest in neighbouring Ukraine.


Two members of Pussy Riot protest group released from penal colonies last year, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were awaiting hearings after being charged yesterday.

Tolokonnikova wrote on Twitter that the women had been charged with taking part in an unsanctioned rally, an administrative offence punishable with a fine or community service.

She slammed the sentence for Navalny, saying "Navalny with his suspended sentence and 10 days in police cells can see Putin's strategy after the Olympics better than anyone."

The protesters were demonstrating against the sentencing of eight activists for participating in a May 2012 rally on the eve of Mr Putin's inauguration for a third presidential term that ended in scuffles with police.

Seven of the activists were sentenced on Monday to terms in penal colonies of between two-and-a-half and four years, while the only woman was given a suspended sentence of three years and three months.

The activists were convicted of "mass riots" and using physical violence against police, charges that were condemned as excessive by their lawyers and supporters.

One activist, 22-year-old Yaroslav Belousov, said that he simply threw a lemon at police ranks as tens of thousands marched in protest against Putin's return to the presidency.

Most of the activists have been held in custody since 2012, meaning that several will be eligible for parole later this year.

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