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'Bolotnaya' Kremlin Critic Released From Russian Jail

  • Tom Balmforth

Aleksei Gaskarov attends a court hearing in Moscow in June 2013.

Aleksei Gaskarov attends a court hearing in Moscow in June 2013.

MOSCOW -- Russian opposition activist Aleksei Gaskarov has been freed after completing a 3 1/2-year jail term for his involvement in a mass anti-Kremlin demonstration against alleged election rigging that spiraled into clashes with police.

Gaskarov, a 31-year-old left-wing activist, was greeted on his release outside a prison in Tula Oblast on October 27 by family members as well as by two activists who were also prosecuted over the rally.

The prosecutions emerged from what has been dubbed the "Bolotnaya case," after the Moscow square where a so-called March Of Millions was staged in 2012, which became a symbol of President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on the opposition.

"In personal terms, everyone who has done [prison] time has lost a lot,” Gaskarov told Dozhd TV after his release, "but if we compare this with the public's interests, then someone had to go through this, someone had to have this fate."

The violence on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, one day before Putin was inaugurated for his third term as president, dealt a major blow to the opposition, which had held a series of unprecedented antigovernment rallies earlier that year.

Riot police detained more than 400 people at the rally. More than 30 were prosecuted in connection with the clashes, and over 20 of those received jail sentences or otherwise spent time in custody.

Sergei Davidis, an activist who monitors the jailed activists' fates, told RFE/RL that six of them remain in custody.

Gaskarov was arrested in April 2013, almost a year after the protest. He was convicted in 2014 of taking part in mass riots and using violence against police officers.

He has denied the charges.

International rights watchdog Amnesty International has described all the Bolotnaya defendants as prisoners of conscience.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has in the past two months ordered Russia to pay compensation to at least four of those prosecuted in the case for violations of their rights.

Earlier this month, the ECHR agreed to hear a case filed by Gaskarov and another jailed activist, Ilya Gushchin.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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