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North Ossetia Protesters Against COVID-19 Measures Receive Jail Terms


A man is detained during a protest rally in Vladikavkaz on April 20.

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia – Authorities in Russia's North Caucasus region of North Ossetia have sentenced 13 people to jail terms of between three and 15 days for taking part in an unsanctioned rally against measures local authorities have put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

A court in the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, sentenced the 13 local residents late on April 21 after finding them guilty of resisting police and organizing a public event that led to the violation of public order.

Police in North Ossetia detained dozens of protesters a day earlier when about 2,000 people gathered in the central square of Vladikavkaz, demanding the resignation of regional leader Vyacheslav Bitarov.

The rally lasted for several hours until police violently dispersed it.

The protest was initiated online via social networks by North Ossetian opera singer Vadim Cheldiyev, who permanently resides in St. Petersburg.

In a video statement posted on social networks, Cheldiyev claimed that the authorities in North Ossetia are exaggerating the dangers of the coronavirus in the region so that they can "steal" from ordinary people. He gave no evidence of wrongdoing.

Cheldiyev was detained in St. Petersburg last week and brought to North Ossetia over the weekend. He was charged with spreading fake news about the coronavirus and assaulting police, which he vehemently denies, and placed in pretrial detention for two months.

On April 21, a court in Vladikavkaz ruled that Cheldiyev must pay a $75,000 ruble ($980) fine for spreading fake news about the coronavirus. His trial on the charge of assaulting police is pending.

Cheldiyev's lawyer has said his client has started a hunger strike to protest his arrest and the charges against him.

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