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Russia Hands Two Rights Activists Stiff Prison Terms On Drug-Trafficking Charges

Lia Milushkina and her husband, Artyom Milushkin
Lia Milushkina and her husband, Artyom Milushkin

A Russian court has sentenced two activists linked to the banned Open Russia rights group to lengthy prison sentences for drug charges they say are politically motivated.

The Pskov district court on August 12 sentenced Lia Milushkina to 10 1/2 years in prison and her husband, Artyom Milushkin, to 11 years after finding them guilty of drug trafficking.

Milushkina is the former coordinator of the local branch of the Open Russia rights group linked to exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Her prison sentence will be deferred until 2024 because the couple has two young children.

The former head of oil company Yukos, Khodorkovsky is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's wealthiest opponents.

Several Khodorkovsky-linked organizations have been banned or otherwise targeted in recent years under the so-called "foreign agent" laws, including the pro-democracy Open Russia movement.

The couple was arrested in January 2019 and charged with selling a large amount of drugs based on testimony given by anonymous witnesses and a police agent whose drug addiction came up during the trial. The police officer is now serving time for drug possession.

Milushkin was also charged with arson.

During the trial, the defendants said they were arrested before a rally against arbitrary police practices and that officers planted the drugs.

The activists say the charges are politically motivated because they often organized and participated in protests in Pskov, a city 700 kilometers northwest of Moscow

After the verdict was read, video from the courtroom showed Milushkin breaking the benches inside a cage for defendants.

Earlier this month, two online publications and a legal aid group backed by Khodorkovsky announced they were ceasing operations after the sites were blocked by Russian authorities.

In May, Open Russia said it was ceasing operations to protect is members.