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Over 6,000 People In Moscow Sentenced For Violating Law On Public Gatherings

A rally in support of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in Moscow on January 23

Regional authorities say more than 6,000 people were convicted and sentenced in the first half of the year for violations of the law on public gatherings in the Russian capital, Moscow.

According to the latest report by the Moscow directorate of the Supreme Court's judicial department, about 90 percent of the 6,727 cases related to violations of the law on public gatherings ended with convictions, while 625 were returned to police due to technical issues and 45 were closed without further investigation. Total fines imposed on those found guilty in the cases was almost 66 million rubles (more than $900,000), it added.

The percentage of cases that ended in jail sentences for those convicted was 21 percent, the data showed. By comparison, the human rights group OVD-Info says that for all of 2019, only 4 percent of cases involving violations of the law on public gatherings ended with guilty parties being incarcerated.

The vast majority of the cases were related to a series of demonstrations in support of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most-vocal critic, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he had been treated for a near-fatal poison attack he has blamed on the Kremlin.

The arrest sparked two major rallies -- on January 23 and January 31 -- resulting in the detention of more than 10,000 of his supporters.

In February, a Moscow court ruled that while recovering in Germany, Navalny violated the terms of parole from an old embezzlement case that is widely considered as being politically motivated. Navalny's 3 1/2 year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a jail term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time he had already served.

That sparked further nationwide protests, and a ratcheting up of the government's crackdown on unsanctioned demonstrations as September 19 elections that will choose members of the State Duma, 39 regional parliaments, and nine regional governors approach amid waning support for the ruling Kremlin-backed United Russia party.

Through an unrelenting campaign of intimidation and criminal prosecutions the authorities have purged the electoral field of all but a select few government critics.