Moscow's Basmanny court has placed two municipal lawmakers under house arrest on charges of breaking coronavirus restrictions by publicly calling on Moscow residents to take part in unsanctioned rallies to protest the arrest of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.
The court made the ruling on Konstantin Yankauskas and Dmitry Baranovsky on February 9 after earlier using the same charge against a third municipal lawmaker, Lyusya Shtein.
The lawmakers did not immediately comment on the situation, but Mikhail Timonov, an opposition deputy in the Moscow City Duma, called the move "an attack against [civil] rights and freedoms."
The lawmakers are three of 10 supporters and associates of Navalny who were detained in January on the eve of unsanctioned mass rallies against the Kremlin critic's arrest.
The others include Navalny's brother Oleg Navalny; Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation; the head of the Alliance of Doctors NGO, Anastasia Vasilyeva; a leading member of the Pussy Riot protest group, Maria Alyokhina; a coordinator of Navalny's team in Moscow, Oleg Stepanov; Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh; and an activist, Nikolai Lyaskin.
The majority were placed under house arrest and charged with the violation of sanitary and epidemiological safety precautions during a pandemic. If found guilty of the charges, each person faces up to 2 years in prison.
On February 8, the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow recognized the group as political prisoners.
A day earlier, more than 100 Russian actors, directors, writers, musicians, poets, and scholars issued an open letter, protesting Navalny's persecution and the mass arrests of his supporters in recent weeks.
The 44-year-old Navalny was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Kremlin has denied.
More than 10,000 people were rounded up by police during nationwide rallies protesting Navalny's arrest in more than 100 Russian towns and cities on January 23 and January 31.
On February 2, Navalny was found guilty of violating the terms of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated. The court converted the sentence to 3 1/2 years in prison. Given credit for time already spent in detention, the court said the Kremlin critic would have to serve 2 years and 8 months behind bars.
The court's ruling caused new mass protests across the country that were also violently dispersed by police.
More than 1,400 people were detained by police in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities on that day.