Veteran Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov has been released from jail after serving a 16-day sentence in a case that caused an outcry among fellow activists and international rights groups.
Officials at a Moscow detention center said Ponomaryov, who was jailed by a court that ruled he had organized an unauthorized protest via the Internet, was freed on the morning of December 21.
Investigators said Ponomaryov used his Facebook account to organize an October 28 demonstration in support of New Greatness and Network, two youth activist groups that Russian authorities accuse of extremism.
Supporters and Kremlin critics had voiced concern that the 77-year-old head of the Moscow-based organization For Human Rights was jailed for a Facebook post, and had called for his release.
Amnesty International said the sentence reflected "contempt for human rights," and Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said that his jailing was unjustified.
Ponomaryov had earlier been fined for holding a single-person protest against the arrest of a youth activist.
In its December 5 ruling, a Moscow district court said that Ponomaryov was guilty of repeat violations of regulations governing public gatherings and sentenced him to 25 days in jail.
Two days later, an appeals court shortened the sentence to 16 days.
For Human Rights denounced his arrest and sentencing as "absolutely illegal" and suggested that the authorities jailed him in order to thwart plans for a new opposition rally in mid-December.
Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights head Mikhail Fedotov and Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova have also criticized the sentence, saying it was too harsh for an elderly man.