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Kindergarten teacher Yevgenia Chudnovets was given a six-month prison sentence jailed for reposting a graphic child-abuse video in order to draw public attention to the crime.

MOSCOW -- First she was jailed for reposting a graphic child-abuse video in order to draw public attention to the crime. Then she claimed she was sent to a punishment cell -- known by her jailors as "the hole" -- for trying to warm up her feet by covering them with a blanket.

The startling misfortune of Yevgenia Chudnovets, a jailed kindergarten teacher from the Urals, has won her public support across the political divide -- from opposition leader Aleksei Navalny all the way to lawmakers from Vladimir Putin's United Russia ruling party.

It comes with Russia's penitentiary system in the spotlight after Ildar Dadin, a jailed opposition activist, last year made allegations of widespread torture in a prison facility in the northern Karelia region.

Chudnovets was convicted and sentenced to six months' imprisonment in November for disseminating a child-abuse video on social media. The three-second clip shows the abuse of a naked 10-year-old boy.

Chudnovets spotted the video online and reposted it in August, 2015, to a closed group on VKontakte where she and others discuss local news. The reposting of the video helped police catch a young man and woman from Kurgan Oblast who were jailed for three and six years, respectively, for the abuse.

Chudnovets, however, was subsequently charged herself with disseminating pornographic material and found guilty in November, despite her widely accepted explanation that she was trying to draw attention to the incident.

The harsh judgment prompted the country's human rights ombudsman, Anna Kuznetsova, to voice "alarm," protesting that: "This is a person who helped the police solve this crime."

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers Sergei Shargunov and Oksana Pushkina appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office to examine the case.

'Wild Accusation'

Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin ordered a probe into her sentencing, while state newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta wrote: "She wanted to draw the attention of her friends to a wild incident, and as a result was brought to account over a wild accusation." Chudnovets' case was even raised by a journalist at Putin's December press conference in which the president promised to look into the case.

Following the outcry, a Kurgan regional court in December reduced her jail sentence -- but only by one month.

After the holiday period, her case came back into the headlines when, on January 12, her partner Andrei Myasnikov wrote on Facebook that Chudnovets had been placed in a punishment cell for 15 days. He suggested the harsh treatment was revenge for the attention her case had attracted.

On January 14, the Urals news portal interviewed Sergei Zykov, a Public Monitoring Commission activist, who said he had spoken directly to Chudnovets. She told him she had been given 10 days in the punishment cell for covering her feet with a blanket. When she expressed surprise she was given another five days, he said, adding that jailors call the cell "the hole."

Former lawmaker and opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, writing on Facebook, said the case shows the need for radical reform of the penitentiary service.

"Of course we really need reform," Gudkov said. "But we have already seen the 'militsiya [the former name of the Russian police force] reform', which led to absolutely nothing. So that this does not happen again we need to first of all destroy the [penitentiary] 'system' at its root. Then we can start creating something from scratch on entirely different principles."

Ultimately, Chudovnets reportedly only spent one day in the punishment cell, her lawyer told on January 16, because she was transferred to a women's prison facility in Nizhny Tagil in Sverdlovsk Oblast.

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky (right) speaks while his partner Oksana Shalygina looks on during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv on January 4.

PRAGUE -- Russian protest-performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky says he has fled Russia after authorities there questioned him regarding allegations that he attempted to rape a woman.

Pavlensky told Current Time TV on January 16 that he and his partner, Oksana Shalygina, left Russia for France with their two children after they were questioned by investigators on their arrival from Warsaw on December 14.

Pavlensky said investigators had told him and Shalygina that a Moscow actress, Anastasia Slonina, had filed a legal claim against them accusing them of attempting to rape her.

Pavlensky denied the allegation, saying that Slonina herself had sought relations with him and his partner.

"There was no rape, there was nothing that can described as something similar to violence.... We stand on the position of free relations. That position is about different forms of relations but we, in principle, are against any violence in the sphere of personal relations," Pavlensky said.

He described the accusations as blackmail aimed at preventing him from carrying out political activities in Russia.

"The first charges against me were just administrative, then they became criminal probes envisioning minor limitations of freedom and later with more serious freedom limitations and in parallel there was a psychological pressure. Then it turned to a real arrest, which ended with a fine so that everybody would say, 'Look how kind the Russian government is,'" Pavlensky said.

"But in fact, that dialogue with authorities can be interpreted as their intention to put me in jail, not as a person who fought against the regime, who did not agree with the regime, but as a person who is dangerous for society."

Slonina's lawyer, Yury Lysenko, told Current Time TV, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that no formal investigation into the accusation was under way.

Pavlensky said he would seek political asylum in France if an investigation was officially launched.

"They want to launch the probe and now both of us, I and Oksana [Shalygina] are being persecuted. Actually the persecution is of four people, because two others, the children, will then -- if we are jailed -- be sent to orphanages to learn the life," Pavlensky said.

Pavlensky, who is known for startling protests that sometimes involve self-mutilation, says his performances draw attention to the indifference of many Russians to what he says is widespread Federal Security Service (FSB) control over society.

He spent more than six months in pretrial detention after he doused a large wooden door at the FSB's Moscow headquarters with gasoline and set it on fire in November 2015.

He was released in June and ordered to pay a hefty fine, which he refused to do.

Pavlensky has also nailed his scrotum to Red Square, sewn his lips together, wrapped himself in barbed wire, and chopped off part of his ear.

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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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