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Wednesday 9 October 2019

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Ivan Podkopayev in court in Moscow (file photo)

A Moscow court has reduced the sentence of a protester who was convicted of allegedly using pepper spray on a police officer and later changed his plea to not guilty.

Tver district court Judge Yelena Lavrova said on October 9 that she was cutting Ivan Podkopayev's sentence by one year to two years in prison. She did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, a Moscow court upheld a three-year sentence imposed last month against Kirill Zhukov, who was convicted on charges of using violence against police during the same Moscow rally in late July.

Investigators alleged that Zhukov made contact with the helmet of a security officer who was involved in a cordon during the unsanctioned protest.

Zhukov's supporters said the sentence was grossly unfair and that it was clear from footage of the incident that he had barely touched the officer's helmet.

Podkopayev and Zhukov are among dozens of protesters who were fined or given jail sentences for organizing and participating in a series of sanctioned and unsanctioned rallies in Moscow over the summer.

Protesters were angered by officials' actions to block independent and opposition candidates from running in the September 8 municipal elections.

Podkopayev, a 25-year-old technician, originally pleaded guilty to the charge against him, but he later withdrew that admission during his appeal and pleaded not guilty.

Podkopayev admitted to using the spray during a July 27 pro-democracy rally, but said he was defending himself from National Guard officers who were assaulting him.

Police and legal officials were sharply criticized for their heavy-handed tactics during and after the protests, which drew some of the biggest crowds since demonstrations against election manipulation in 2011 and 2012.

Thousands of people were detained, and several were given stiff prison terms in connection with the protests.

Russian anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Russia's Justice Ministry has branded opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's nonprofit Anti-Corruption Foundation a "foreign agent" under a 2012 law that was widely criticized by the West for stigmatizing groups with the designation.

Navalny quickly rejected the ministry's October 9 announcement, saying Russian authorities fear his foundation (FBK) because of the evidence of corruption it digs up on them.

"We demand that the Justice Ministry publicly explain to everyone and provide evidence that the FBK has received at least one penny of foreign money," Navalny said in a tweet.

"The actions of the Ministry of Justice are absolutely illegal and, obviously, by direct order of [President Vladimir] Putin.... Putin is terribly afraid of FBK. After all, he relies on the power of thieves, bribe takers and corrupt officials. And we expose corruption. And we will not stop no matter what," he added.

Vladimir Titov, the Justice Ministry official overseeing nongovernmental organizations, claimed Navalny's fund received more than 140,000 rubles ($2,150) from abroad, including two tranches from Spain and one from the United States, Interfax reported.

The ministry claimed the U.S. transaction came from a company called Star-Doors.Com.

A man by the name of Yury, who identified himself as the owner of the business but asked that his last name not be used, told RFE/RL he made a personal donation of $52.50 -- including a $2.50 transaction fee -- in June through his PayPal account to the account of Ivan Zhdanov, an opposition politician who sought a seat on the Moscow city council.

Moscow held parliamentary elections in September.

Yury said he was seeking asylum in the United States but only possessed a Russian passport.

"This was a transfer from one Russian citizen to another Russian citizen," he said of the donation to Zhdanov.

RFE/RL could not immediately reach Zhdanov for comment.

The designation subjects the Anti-Corruption Foundation to the same requirements as foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations, under which they must apply for inclusion in a government register, and submit regular reports covering their sources of funding, their objectives, how they spend their money, and who their managers are.

Signs of a nonprofit organization "performing the functions of a foreign agent were established during an investigation of its activities," the ministry said in its statement.

The Anti-Corruption Foundation was founded in 2011 by Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition leader and a lawyer by training who has doggedly pursued evidence of corruption at the highest level of Russian politics.

Its investigations regularly provoke public uproar over misuse of state funds -- in 2017, a probe into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's wealth became a catalyst for a wave of mass rallies that erupted across Russia that March.

Navalny recently served a 30-day sentence for allegedly organizing recent protests against the exclusion of independent candidates from September elections to the Moscow city council.

Of the 30 or so candidates barred from running, five were affiliated with or employed by the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

In August, the foundation said all of its accounts had been blocked as the country’s powerful Investigative Committee proceeded with a money-laundering probe that threatened its survival as a self-professed force for elite accountability and political change.

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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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