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Police detain an opposition supporter during a protest in Moscow on May 31.
Judges in Moscow have sentenced a man to 2 1/2 years in prison for breaking a policeman's nose during an opposition rally.

The unusually harsh sentence has caused outrage among opposition leaders and rights campaigners, who view it as a warning to all opposition protesters.

According to police, 56-year-old Sergei Makhnatkin is an opposition activist who resisted arrest and assaulted the police officer during an unsanctioned rally last December.

Makhnatkin, however, tells a very different story. He says he was simply walking past the site of the rally when he saw several policemen beating up an elderly female protester and asked them to stop. He says he hit the police officer in self-defense after being thrown into a police van, handcuffed, and beaten up.

The Moscow court has refused to hear the nine protesters who witnessed the incident.

Interestingly, the policeman is not the only person to have suffered injuries during recent opposition protests.

Police smashed the arm of journalist Aleksandr Artemyev in three different places while forcefully dispersing a rally in Moscow on May 31.

During his lengthy prison stay, Makhnatkin will have much time to mull over the oddities of the Russian justice system, which allows police to routinely batter citizens while punishing peaceful attempts to stop the beatings.

In the meantime, he has launched a hunger strike.

-- Claire Bigg
The TVi and Channel 5 logos
A court has stripped two Ukrainian TV channels -- Channel 5 and TVi -- of their new broadcast frequencies, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

The Kyiv district court today annulled the January results of a tender held by Ukraine's National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting that allocated those frequencies.

According to Ukrainian media experts, Channel 5 and TVi are among the few Ukrainian TV channels that provide independent news coverage.

The move comes a day after the Editorial Board of Channel 5 sent an open letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych asking him to intervene.

The board claimed that the court hearing was being influenced by Ukrainian Security Service head Valery Khoroshkovsky.

Khoroshkovky owns the rival media holding Inter Media Group, which has asked for a new tender for frequencies.

Khoroshkovsky strongly denied exerting pressure on Channel 5 and demanded proof of the allegations made by its editorial board.

"What kind of direct proof one can have, other than the fact that Khoroshkovsky is one of the owners of Inter Media Group? He is the chief of the security service, a member of the Higher Council of Justice. His wife is the manager of Inter Media Group. Here you have double standards," Roman Skypin, a journalist who heads TVi's information service, said in an interview with RFE/RL.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko also weighed in today, saying the petitioners never had any chance of success because of political interference:

"Now to count on the letter of journalists having an impact would be utopian since it was Yanukovych who gave such orders," Tymoshenko said. "I am convinced that to address the courts is utopian because today they function not according to the law and the constitution, but under orders from one person, from Yanukovych."

Meanwhile, one of Inter Group's TV channels, Enter Music, branded the Channel 5 editorial board's open letter an attempt to exert pressure on the Ukrainian justice system. When they speak of protecting "press freedom," what they mean is their own interests and the aims of their owners, Enter Music representatives said.

Today the National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting issued a statement calling for treating separately the questions of press freedom, development of media business, and adherence to the law.

The composition of the council has been changed since its controversial January ruling.

Now the council notes that its previous decision to grant new frequencies to Channel 5 and TVi was adopted without a quorum and contrary to court rulings.

Natalya Lihachova, editor of Telekritika.kiev.ua, believes that today's court decision does not mean that Channel 5 and TVi will cease to exist. It is likely that Channel 5 will retain the frequencies it has but not acquire new ones, while TVi will remain a satellite channel, Lihachova said in
interview with RFE/RL.

She believes that the dispute reflects efforts by the Ukrainian authorities to increase their control over the country's media.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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