MOSCOW -- A trial of members of a Moscow youth activist group accused of extremism has taken an unexpected turn after a key witness recanted his testimony.
The trial of eight young members of the New Greatness movement started in late May after the defendants were arrested in March 2018, with four of them being held in pretrial detention.
Group member Pavel Rebrovsky had earlier testified against other members in a separate trial after cutting a deal with investigators. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in April.
But on July 8, Rebrovsky changed the testimony he had given during his own trial, and told the Moscow court that he had been forced by investigators to lie about other members of the group after being threatened with a 10-year prison sentence on terrorism charges.
He told the court that none of the group's members had ever called for radical activities or intended to commit extremist acts.
Svetlana Sidorkina, the lawyer of one of the defendants in the case, told RFE/RL on July 9 that Rebrovsky's latest testimony has completely proven that the case was fabricated.
"Rebrovsky's latest testimony is very significant as it fully refutes the prosecutor's position," Sidorkina said, voicing hope that the court would take that into consideration.
Those charged say they had turned their online chat criticizing the government into a political movement after the move was proposed by one of their members, Aleksandr Konstantinov, which turned out to be a false name.
The investigators changed the man's name to Ruslan D. in the case documents and gradually excluded it from the files.
Defense lawyers say Ruslan D., who proposed the idea, named the movement New Greatness, wrote its charter, and booked venues for the movement's gatherings, was in fact a Federal Security Service (FSB) agent.
One of the defendants, Anna Pavlikova, was 17 at the time of her arrest. She spent several months under house arrest, which sparked mass protests in Moscow and other cities.
Another group member, Rustam Rustamov, who also cut a deal with investigators, received a suspended 18-month prison sentence earlier.
In October, peaceful demonstrations to support members of the group were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other cities across Russia.
Police detained dozens of protesters.