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Protest Leader In Yekaterinburg Charged With Libel

Yaroslav Shirshikov led protests against the building of a church in Yekaterinburg.

YEKATERINBURG, Russia -- A leader of mass rallies in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg has been charged with libel and issuing public calls for "mass disturbances."

Yaroslav Shirshikov wrote on Facebook, on July 22, that he is searching for a lawyer to help defend him in court against the charges.

Shirshikov also wrote in a comment to his post that the libel charge was based on his calling presidential envoy Nikolai Tsukanov "a Polish spy" after his assistant was charged with high treason and arrested earlier in July.

Shirshikov also wrote that he does not know exactly what the second charge was based on.

Shirshikov was one of the leaders of mass protests in May against building an Orthodox church in a city park in Yekaterinburg. The protests ended when local authorities decided to scrap plans to build the church there.

During the protest campaign, police arrested almost 100 people. Of those arrested, 33 were sentenced to jail terms ranging from two days to 15 days.

In late June, local police in Yekaterinburg launched an investigation into the unsanctioned demonstrations, calling the protests "mass disturbances."

The activists who organized and participated in the demonstrations were searched by municipal police from Yekaterinburg in mid July.