ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – A Russian administrative court has issued 10-day jail sentences against two opposition figures in St. Petersburg for organizing what the court ruled was an unauthorized May Day protest.
The jail sentences were issued in the early morning hours of May 2 against Aleksandr Shurshev, the coordinator of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s St. Petersburg office, and against Andrei Pivovarov, the head of the opposition organization Open Russia.
Pivovarov’s lawyer Anastasia Burakova accused the St. Petersburg court of violating the European Convention on Human Rights by conducting the hearing for Shurshev and Pivovarov at 1 a.m. on May 2.
Open Russia insists it obtained permission from city authorities in St. Petersburg to stage the May 1 march under the slogan “Free Election to Free St. Petersburg.”
City police began arresting demonstrators as soon as they began to march with posters and banners that criticized President Vladimir Putin and St. Petersburg’s Acting Governor Aleksandr Beglov.
The OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors police crackdowns in Russia against demonstrations, says authorities detained a total of 68 demonstrators.
Demonstrators complained to RFE/RL that the police crackdown was violent, saying they broke the arm of one woman they arrested and beat freelance photojournalist Georgy Markov.
Municipal authorities said police "had to detain several instigators of disorder" in order "to stabilize" the situation after "provocateurs” disrupted the May Day march.
But St. Petersburg's ombudsman, Aleksandr Shishlov, criticized the police action to disperse the march, calling it "a gross violation of the constitution."
Russia's Presidential Council for Human Rights issued a statement on May 2 saying that it agreed with Shishlov’s assessment.
Scores of people were detained in several Russian towns and cities on May 1 as opposition activists, communists, and members of trade unions marked the May Day with holiday rallies and anti-government protests.