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Doctor Who Treated And Backed Navalny Handed Parole-Like Sentence Over Virus 'Violations'


Anastasia Vasilyeva arrives for a court hearing in Moscow in August.

A Russian court has imposed one year of restrictions on the freedom of movement on Anastasia Vasilyeva, the head of the Alliance of Doctors labor union, who used to treat jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, after finding her guilty of breaching COVID-19 safety rules.

Vasilyeva was prosecuted for urging people earlier this year to join a protest against Navalny's imprisonment that authorities said was illegal due to COVID-19 safety restrictions.

In March, the Alliance of Doctors was placed on the state's controversial "foreign agents" list, which has been used to stymie monitoring groups and the media, to disqualify prominent opposition candidates, to drive opposition leaders to flee the country, and to restrict access to volunteers and fundraising for any person or group placed on it.

Vasilyeva treated Navalny in 2017 for an injury to his right eye after he was targeted by Kremlin supporters, and voiced support for him after the opposition leader's arrest earlier this year.

But she publicly broke ties with the Kremlin critic's exiled associates last month as the authorities stepped up a crackdown against them.

In a Facebook post on September 16, Vasilyeva accused Navalny's now-defunct Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) of leaving her and her team without any support after "using" them, saying that Navalny associates Leonid Volkov, Ivan Zhdanov, and Maria Pevchikh, who currently live outside of Russia, "are ruining everything that we once created."

Vasilyeva's post sparked a heated reaction online, with many believing that she was forced to make the statement on the eve of parliamentary elections as the Kremlin-backed ruling party, United Russia, which has seen its support slump, looked to retain power.

Vasilyeva, who famously played her piano while police ransacked her apartment in January during a crackdown over the past year against Navalny and his allies, had been under increasing pressure from the authorities.

Some compared Vasilyeva's situation with that of Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich, once a critic of his country's strongman leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his crackdown on the opposition.

Pratasevich was arrested along with his girlfriend in Minsk on May 23 after Belarusian authorities forced their Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in the Belarusian capital. He later changed his public stance and views on the political situation in Belarus, a move many opposition leaders say appeared to be made under duress.

The beginning of the year marked Navalny's return to Russia following treatment in Germany for a nerve-agent poisoning he claims was carried out by Russian security agents at Putin's behest.

Navalny was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for a parole violation on a charge that he denounces as politically motivated.

Thousands of Russians were detained during nationwide protests calling for his release and later the FBK and his network of regional offices were shut down as "extremist" organizations.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS
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