A Russian Orthodox Church court in the Yaroslavl eparchy has issued a five-year work suspension for a priest who in September signed an open letter with dozens of other clergymen urging the authorities to reduce their clampdown and free activists sentenced to prison for attending protests.
The eparchy said the ban's aim is to care for Father Aleksandr Parfyonov, describing it as a "therapeutic church measure, which should bring a person back in the right state of mind so that he continues to serve in the future."
Parfyonov and more than 180 other Russian Orthodox clergymen signed the open letter after protests broke out in Moscow and other cities that demanded independent and opposition candidates be let on the ballot for local elections.
However, the press secretary for the eparchy, Aleksandr Samosky, told Russian media that the church court's ruling wasn't linked to this summer's protests. He didn't specify a reason for Parfyonov's suspension.
The first rally took place on July 27, drawing about 10,000 people in Moscow and was the largest unauthorized rally to have challenged President Vladimir Putin's rule in seven years.
Police violently dispersed the crowd at the public assembly, detaining more than 1,300 people.
In the wake of the arrests, two dozen protesters were criminally charged, with nine receiving prison terms. Altogether, 14 people who attended anti-government rallies over the summer were sentenced, of whom 11 were given prison terms ranging from one to 5 1/2 years.
Citing passages from the bible and tenets of Christian teaching, the letter signed by the priests condemned the use of force by riot police and appealed to Russia's judges and members of law enforcement.
The letter was also an intervention in politics that church scholars have said was unprecedented in Russia since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
"Court cases should not be of a repressive character, courts cannot be used as a means of suppressing dissenters, and force should not be applied with unjustified severity," part of the letter read, calling some of the sentences "more like intimidation of Russian citizens than fair verdicts."
The priests' open letter coincided with similar appeals from groups of Russian school teachers, doctors, students, lawyers, and, most recently, members of the Academy of Sciences.