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Another Navalny Associate Handed Parole-Like Sentence Over Alleged Virus Restriction Violations

Oleg Stepanov was the chief of Navalny's team in Moscow

MOSCOW -- A Moscow court has sentenced another associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to one year of so-called "restricted freedom," a parole-like sentence, for allegedly violating restrictive measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The court handed down the sentence to the former chief of Navalny's team in Moscow, Oleg Stepanov, on August 20 after finding him guilty of publicly calling for people to take part in unsanctioned rallies to support the Kremlin critic in January.

Stepanov, like several other Navalny associates previously, rejected the charge calling it politically motivated while accusing authorities of using pandemic restrictions to crackdown on opposition.

Four days earlier, the same court sentenced Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, to 18 months of restricted freedom on the same charge.

Earlier this month, Navalny's brother Oleg was found guilty of the same charges and handed a one-year suspended sentence and a one-year probation period.

Two other Navalny associates, Nikolai Lyaskin and Lyubov Sobol, also were found guilty and given parole-like sentences -- one year and 18 months, respectively. Media reports that Sobol fled Russia after the verdict have not been confirmed either by her or her associates.

Other individuals charged include municipal lawyers Dmitry Baranovsky and Lyusya Shtein; the chief of the Alliance of Doctors NGO, Anastasia Vasilyeva; and a leading member of the Pussy Riot protest group, Maria Alyokhina.

Most of them are now under house arrest or curfew.

Aleksei Navalny was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin has denied any role in the incident, which was the latest of numerous attacks on Navalny.

More than 10,000 people were rounded up during nationwide rallies protesting Navalny's arrest organized in more than 100 Russian towns and cities on January 23 and January 31.

On February 2, Navalny was convicted of violating the terms of his suspended sentence related to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated. The remainder of Navalny's suspended sentence, 2 1/2 years, was then replaced by a real prison term.

That ruling sparked new protests that were also forcibly dispersed by police.

More than 1,400 people were detained by police in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities during those demonstrations.