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Prison For Russian Protester For Throwing Garbage Can At Police

Yevgeny Kovalenko during a court hearing in Moscow on September 4.

A Moscow court has sentenced activist Yevgeny Kovalenko to 42 months in prison for assaulting a police officer during an opposition rally in July.

The court handed down the sentence on September 4, ruling the 48-year-old Kovalenko was guilty of pushing one officer and of throwing a trash can at another while participating in an unsanctioned rally in the capital on July 27.

Kovalenko pleaded not guilty during the trial, saying his "actions were dictated by the lawlessness of the situation and were aimed at preventing the beating of people by police forces."

While dozens of protesters detained at the rally have since been fined or given jail sentences of up to 30 days for organizing and participating in the unsanctioned rally, the charges against Kovalenko were much more serious and carry a prison sentence of up to five years, which prosecutors had sought.

The rally, and several in the weeks that have followed, were sparked by a decision by Moscow election officials to bar some opposition candidates from Moscow City Duma elections to be held on September 8.

Authorities claimed the candidates, most of whom were opposition members, had insufficient signatures on nominating petitions, a claim the nominees dispute.

The 45 members of the Moscow City Duma hold powerful posts -- retaining the ability to propose legislation as well as inspect how the city’s $43 billion budget is spent.

Nearly 1,400 demonstrators were held after the July 27 rally, independent political watchdog OVD-Info has said, and security officials in Moscow have been condemned by rights groups and many Western governments and organizations for a "disproportionate" use of force in breaking up the demonstration.

The police crackdown was one of the harshest in recent years against an opposition that has grown more defiant while denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power.

A September 3 survey by the Levada Center showed that 45 percent of respondents felt independent candidates were denied access to being put on the ballot because Moscow authorities "are in competition" with them. The same number also felt law enforcement acted unreasonably when detaining protesters at the rallies.