A Russian blogger has been convicted and imprisoned for a post harshly criticizing the government’s military operation in Syria that prosecutors say was sympathetic to terrorism.
A court in the central Tyumen region on December 20 found Aleksei Kungurov guilty of "publicly justifying terrorism" for the blog post -- published shortly after Russia's intervention in Syria began last year -- and sentenced him to 2 1/2 years in a penal colony.
The conviction is the latest in a series of prosecutions in Russia targeting bloggers and social media users in what rights watchdogs call an escalating crackdown on free speech online.
Kungurov, an activist who has been involved with strident nationalist and anti-Western groups, argued in the October 2015 post that the extremist group Islamic State (IS), which is banned in Russia, had characteristics of an actual government.
He also asserted that President Vladimir Putin's intervention was aimed primarily at propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not, as the Kremlin has said, defeating IS militants and other "terrorists" in the country.
The SOVA Center, a Moscow-based think tank that monitors xenophobia and extremism, has said there was nothing illegal in Kungurov's post, while the Russian rights group Memorial has included Kungurov in its list of "political prisoners."
Kungurov's lawyer said his defense plans to appeal the verdict, Russia's RBK newspaper reported.