People gather for a meeting against the violations during governor and municipal elections in St.Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Prosecutors urge Russian protester be freed as support rises

September 18, 2019 - 3:51 am

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian prosecutors are asking to release a protester facing years in prison for assaulting police following a mounting public campaign in support of anti-government activists and even bystanders caught up in an opposition rally.

Following their own pleas to keep the man in jail, prosecutors at a hearing on Wednesday asked the court to release Aidar Gubaidulin on recognizance and review the case to clarify the charges. Gubaidulin was one of a dozen Russians facing a prison sentence for his role in the July 27 opposition protest.

Public discontent has been rising against what has been perceived as the Kremlin's vengeance against the opposition following verdicts this month sentencing four people to prison terms ranging from two to three and a half years.

In a rare sign of dissent, more than 50 Russian Orthodox priests signed a public petition late Tuesday, condemning a series of recent trials and prison sentences for the protesters.

"We would like to express our concern about the fact that the verdicts come across as an attempt to intimidate Russian citizens rather than deliver a fair ruling in the case of the defendants," the letter said.

The priests' letter also quoted the Bible, pointing out that perjury is a sin.

Dozens of Russian celebrities and entertainers have taken social media this week to show solidarity with little-known actor Pavel Ustinov who was tried and sentenced to 3½ years in prison for assaulting police at the July 27 rally. Footage from the scene showed several officers tackling Ustinov as looked at his phone while standing on the sidelines of the protest. The judge refused the defense's plea even to review the video.

Protests erupted in Moscow in July after election officials refused to allow a dozen independent and opposition candidates to run for the Moscow city legislature in the Sept. 8 vote.

Some of the rallies were not authorized by the police, and authorities deployed a formidable police force to disperse the crowds. In the July 27 rally, riot police were seen beating and detaining peaceful protesters. Nearly 1,400 people were briefly detained.

Shortly after the protests, dozens of people were rounded up and charged with assaulting police and rioting.

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