Russia Frees Jailed Protester as Teachers, Clergy Demand End to Crackdown

September 19, 2019 Updated: September 19, 2019

MOSCOWA Moscow court freed an opposition protester from custody on Sept. 18, as school teachers and Orthodox priests told authorities to rein in a crackdown following the biggest anti-Kremlin protests in the capital for years.

The court released Aidar Gubaydulin, who faced years in jail for assaulting a police officer at a protest in August, on bail. His supporters claim that all he had done was throw a plastic bottle at a police officer and that he had missed his target.

The court ruled the case should be reviewed by prosecutors, a move the opposition cast as a concession, after an array of prominent Russians demanded the release of an actor jailed for 3-1/2 years on similar charges.

Celebrities from film stars to a Eurovision pop singer took to social networks on Sept. 17 to condemn the conviction of novice actor Pavel Ustinov, protesting that he hadn’t taken part in the rally and hadn’t resisted arrest.

Police arrested more than 2,000 people at protests over the summer that began when more than a dozen opposition candidates were barred from taking part in a local election in Moscow that was held this month.

Several protesters were given jail terms of about three to four years for assaulting police officers, convictions the opposition says are part of a broader crackdown aimed at stymying its activities.

The authorities deny that, and say many of this summer’s opposition protests were illegal because they weren’t formally authorized and that people were prosecuted for breaking the law.

On Sept. 18, more than 700 teachers signed an open letter circulated online condemning what it said were the “array of unjust sentences issued flouting the constitution…”

“People … have been arrested without cause, beaten, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment or large monetary fines without their guilt being proven …,” it said.

A separate open letter signed by more than 70 Orthodox clerics said the convictions had been disproportionately harsh and appeared designed to intimidate protests. It called for them to be reviewed.

Outside the Kremlin administration building in Moscow, scores of supporters queued up and took turns to stand in one-person pickets in Ustinov’s defense, a form of protest that does not require formal permission from city authorities.

The Kremlin declined to comment on the outcry, saying Ustinov had appealed his conviction and that it was up to the courts to rule in the case.

By Tom Balmforth