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A Russian judge who showed leniency toward two teenagers charged with plotting to overthrow the government has reportedly been forced to resign after a topless selfie of her was obtained by superiors who were critical of her ruling.

A spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court told RIA Novosti on May 15 that Judge Irina Devayeva resigned from the capital's Dorogomilov district court "at her own request." But other Russian media have noted that the photo scandal comes after Devayeva faced pressure and criticism following her August 2018 decision to transfer two teens accused of belonging to an alleged extremist group from detention to house arrest.

Devayeva's ruling to release 18-year-old Anna Pavlikova and 19-year old Maria Dubovik came after protesters organized a "Mothers March" on August 15 during which many participants carried stuffed animals to highlight the young age of the detainees.

Pavlikova and Dubovik were arrested in March 2018, along with eight others and held on extremism charges that they had turned their online chat criticizing the government into a political movement called New Greatness.

'The New Greatness' -- Young Terrorists Or Victims Of Setup?
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It was revealed that the man who proposed the idea of forming the movement, written its charter, and rented premises for its gatherings was a special agent of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Supporters at the time said Pavlikova and Dubovik had been framed by the authorities.

Citing unidentified sources, the news website Znak reported that Devayeva found herself at odds with two judicial superiors following her decision to transfer the teens to house arrest, and was ultimately forced out by them after they obtained the topless photo.

Znak identified the two superiors as Olga Bykovskaya, chairwoman of the Dorogomilov district court, and Olga Yegorova, chairwoman of the Moscow City Court.

According to Znak, an unidentified source who was present when Devayeva's dismissal was discussed by the Moscow City Court said that Devayeva's mobile phone had "presumably" been hacked, and the image stolen.

The source said the photo had been taken "long before Devayeva became a judge" in 2016. The source told Znak that the image had never been transferred from the phone, and had never been published on social media.

During the hearing, according to the source, Yegorova shouted that she would "never allow such depravity among the judges."

The Moscow qualifications panel for judges noted that the termination of Devayeva's judicial powers was discussed on March 29.

An e-mail sent by RFE/RL to the Moscow City Court requesting comment on the circumstances of Devayeva's resignation went unanswered by the time of publication of this article.

'No More Honest Judges?'

On social media, some suggested Devayeva was paying the price for failing to toe the Kremlin line. "The system pushes out the honest," Yelena Rusakova wrote on Facebook.

Others said it was Devayeva who had been victimized, with her phone allegedly hacked to access the incriminating photos.

"Hacking a phone is not an offense, no? And what about the right to privacy? Or did the old Soviet hypocrisy never disappear? Or is it just that the phrase 'honest judge' is now an oxymoron?" asked Eugenia Dimant on Facebook.

Another Facebook user, Nikolai Podosokorskiy, suggested that technology might be making it easier for authorities to push aside dissent. "How easy it turned out to end the career of an inconvenient individual in Russia. All it takes is hacking their phone or filming them with a hidden camera -- or easier yet, showing intimate photos to the bosses."

The case against New Greatness was part of what some experts called a "disturbing development" in the rising number of extremism cases in Russia in 2018.

"Law enforcement agencies have opened numerous extremism cases against not only opposition activists but also ordinary citizens," Andrei Pertsev, a journalist with Russia's Kommersant business daily, wrote on the Carnegie Moscow Center website on August 30, 2018.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky, with additional reporting by Ivan Belyayev of RFE/RL's Russian Service
Riot police confront protesters during a rally against the construction of a church in central Yekaterinburg on May 14.

Officials in two Russian cities have suspended or scrapped plans to construct religious buildings after a project to build a church in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg triggered several days of protests.

Vladimir Yelistratov, the mayor of Chelyabinsk, also in the Urals, said on May 20 that a plan to construct an Orthodox Christian chapel in a park inside the compound of the South Urals State University had been halted.

"Yekaterinburg's experience must be studied," Yelistratov said, adding that the chapel would not be constructed before local residents' opinions were thoroughly examined.

The announcement comes days after the mayor of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Sergei Yeryomin, refused to allow the construction of an Orthodox church in a park.

In a statement, the Krasnoyarsk city administration explained the decision by saying that the construction of the proposed building could cause deforestation of the area.

The moves by the authorities of Chelyabinsk and Krasnoyarsk came after thousands of people demonstrated for four evenings in Yekaterinburg last week against plans to erect an Orthodox church in a popular central park.

The protests withered after local authorities said that construction work on the proposed new church was suspended and that an opinion poll would be held before a final decision on the matter.

During the protest campaign, police arrested almost 100 protesters, 33 of whom were sentenced to jail terms between two and 15 days.

Yekaterinburg is Russia's fourth-largest city.

With reporting by Pchela

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