SOCHI, RUSSIA — A Moscow court found eight protesters guilty Friday of attacking police and inciting mass riots on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration nearly two years ago, charges widely viewed as putting the opposition on notice that dissent would not be tolerated.
Prosecutors have asked for up to six years imprisonment for the protesters, one of whom was accused of throwing a lemon-like object at a police officer. But sentencing was postponed until Monday, a day after the Olympics end in Sochi. Supporters of the accused in the matter — known as the Bolotnaya case for the location of the protest — said the delay was meant to deflect international attention by imposing the sentences when many journalists and officials would be on their way home.
Nearly a thousand supporters gathered in the streets outside the court building, chanting “Freedom” and “No to dictatorship.” Riot police quickly began detaining people in the crowd, and opposition leaders said as many as 150 were taken away.
One of those detained, Andrei Mironov, said by cellphone from a police van that he had been standing quietly when he was plucked off the street. “They were just taking people one by one,” he said. “They took people for no reason.”
Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist for the Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station, photographed what was apparently a security officer on a balcony making a video of the crowd. When he tweeted the photo, he was detained. Also detained was Maria Baronova, who had originally been among the accused. She was released in December as part of an amnesty.
Those found guilty were Sergei Krivov, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov, Stepan Zimin, Yaroslav Belousov, Artyom Savelov, Alexei Polikhovich and Alexandra Dukhanina. Krivov, 52, was the oldest defendant and Dukhanina, 20, the youngest.
About two dozen protesters were accused in all, but others are being tried in separate cases. In October, a mentally disabled man among the accused, Mikhail Kosenko, was sent to a psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period. Opposition leaders said it reminded them of Soviet times when dissenters were routinely confined to psychiatric hospitals.
Sergei Panchenko, a lawyer representing Stepan Zimin, told the crowd that the judge simply reread the charges filed by prosecutors, then pronounced the guilty verdict.
“Today the atmosphere was very tense and nervous,” he said. “We do not have any hope for our so-called judicial system. Our hope is your moral support, that’s all.”