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A court in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk has handed prison terms to a couple who protested the arrest of a group of activists and criticized pension reform.

Pavel Chikov of the legal defense organization Agora wrote on his Telegram channel that the Central District court in the Ural's city on September 10 sentenced Dmitry Tsibukovsky to 2 1/2 years and his wife, Anastasia Safonova, to two years in prison.

Prosecutors had sought six years in prison for each defendant.

Tsibukovsky and Safonova, who are self-declared anarchists, were initially arrested in 2018 after they placed a large banner with the words "FSB -- Main Terrorist” outside the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Chelyabinsk. The FSB is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

Tsibukovsky and Safonova were seeking to express solidarity with a group of activists arrested in 2017-18 for allegedly creating a terrorist group called Set (Network), with cells in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Penza, and Omsk, as well as in neighboring Belarus.

Last year, nine members of the group were convicted of terrorism and handed lengthy prison terms.

Amnesty International has called the terror charges "a figment of the Russian security services' imagination...fabricated in an attempt to silence these activists."

The London-based human rights watchdog maintains the case is “the latest politically motivated abuse of the justice system to target young people.”

The government’s case against Tsibukovsky and Safonova was thrown out twice after investigators failed to prove elements of a crime in the couple’s actions.

Tsibukovsky said that he and Safonov were tortured while in custody.

The couple was later charged with vandalism for graffiti that protested against unpopular pension reforms passed in 2018.

They were arrested again in April 2020 and spent four months in pretrial detention before they were transferred to house arrest.

Maria Alekhina, a member of the Pussy Riot protest group

MOSCOW -- A Moscow court has sentenced Maria Alyokhina, a leading member of the Pussy Riot protest group, to one year of so-called "restricted freedom," a parole-like sentence, for allegedly violating restrictive measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus by calling on people to protest against the detention of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

The Preobrazhensky district court handed down the sentence to Alyokhina on September 10 after finding her guilty of publicly calling for people to take part in unsanctioned rallies to support the Kremlin critic in January.

According to the court ruling, Alyokhina is not allowed to leave her home from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., attend public events, or leave Moscow without police permission.

Alyokhina was one of two Navalny supporters still facing charges for publicly calling for people to take part in the rallies.

The final person whose hearing in the case is pending is the chief of the Alliance of Doctors NGO, Anastasia Vasilyeva.

In the other cases, close associates and supporters of Navalny, including his brother Oleg, have been handed parole-like sentences restricting their freedom in recent weeks.

Media reports said that Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh and his close associate Lyubov Sobol fled Russia after they were sentenced, which had not been confirmed either by the two women or their lawyers.

Aleksei Navalny was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin has denied any role in the incident, which was the latest of numerous attacks on Navalny.

More than 10,000 people were rounded up during nationwide rallies protesting Navalny's arrest organized in more than 100 Russian towns and cities on January 23 and January 31.

On February 2, Navalny was convicted of violating the terms of his suspended sentence related to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated. The remainder of Navalny's suspended sentence, 2 1/2 years, was then replaced with a real prison term.

That ruling sparked new protests that were also forcibly dispersed by police.

More than 1,400 people were detained by police in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities during those demonstrations.

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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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