Russian rights activists say they will give legal help to a man jailed for assaulting a police officer during an opposition rally.
Sergei Makhnatkin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail on June 9 for allegedly breaking a policeman's nose during the December 31 protest in
Moscow that was forcibly dispersed by police.
Makhnatkin says he was just a passerby and that he was detained and beaten up after trying to stop police from hitting an elderly female protester.
Rights activists have denounced the verdict. Oleg Orlov, the chairman of the Moscow-based Memorial group, called it "draconian."
The chairwoman of Moscow's Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, said today her organization will help Makhnatkin appeal his verdict. She also said she will urge Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to intervene on Makhnatkin's behalf.
Vladimir Volkov, a Moscow-based lawyer and a former investigator of serious crimes, told RFE/RL that the verdict is meant as a warning by Moscow authorities.
"With their intimidating action against [Makhnatkin], the authorities are trying to show the public that they are prepared to establish a totalitarian regime in the country so nobody can ever defend their honor and dignity under any circumstances," Volkov says.
Tatyana Kadiyeva, one of the December 31 protesters, told RFE/RL that she witnessed Makhnatkin's ordeal that day.
According to Kadiyeva, Makhnatkin was just passing by Moscow's Triumfal'naya (Triumph) square when he spotted policemen trying to force protester Raisa Vavilova into a police bus. Kadiyeva said that when Makhnatkin verbally intervened, the police forced him into the bus as well.
"Five policemen handcuffed Makhnatkin to a bar in the bus and were beating and suffocating him," Kadiyeva said.
The December demonstration was one in a series of rallies by Russian rights activists and opposition members in support of freedom of assembly.
The demonstrations are held on the last day of any month with 31 days -- a reference to Article 31 of Russia's Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly.
At the most recent rally, on May 31, more than 100 demonstrators were detained by police.