Russian court to pronounce verdicts for anti-Putin protesters

Eight Russians await verdicts Friday in a case launched after an opposition rally that turned violent in 2012

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Eight Russians awaited verdicts Friday in a case launched after an opposition rally turned violent one day before Vladimir Putin's latest inauguration as president in 2012.

The case is seen as a symbol of the Kremlin's crackdown on dissent.

Tens of thousands of people marched through central Moscow in a demonstration on May 6, 2012 against Putin's ascent to a third term as president. But the rally ended in scuffles after walking into police ranks on Bolotnaya square.

The Zamoskvoretsky district court in Moscow is expected to begin reading the verdicts at noon (0800 GMT) in the case, which has dragged on since the summer of 2012 and is now dubbed the Bolotnaya case.

Prosecutors have asked for prison terms of up to six years for the eight people on trial, who are accused of instigating mass riots and using violence against policemen.

But the defense and human rights organizations have decried the case as misdirected and disproportionately harsh. Some rights activists have said that police created a bottleneck on purpose to sow panic.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the charge of “mass riots” is inappropriate and the case is politically motivated.

The trial previously included 12 people but four were released after qualifying for a Kremlin-backed general amnesty in December because they were charged with a lesser charge of participation in mass riots.

Of the remaining eight, Sergei Krivov, 52, and Alexandra Naumova, 20, could face the harshest punishment after prosecutors in December asked to send them to prison for six years.

Also facing prison are protesters Andrei Barabanov, Alexander Polikhovich, Artyom Savyolov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, and Artyom Belousov.

Most of those on trial have been under arrest since 2012. The mass riot probe has already seen one person sentenced to four-and-a-half years on similar charges and a second committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Protesters on May 6, 2012, marched through central Moscow to assemble near a stage on Bolotnaya Square. However clashes began after police blocked the passage of the rally, resulting in mass confusion.

The clashes led to dozens of arrests and some injuries on both sides, and investigators have said that the opposition planned to overthrow the government and destabilize the country.

Prosecutors have said that 82 people were injured. A massive probe into the events had split off into several different cases including a total of about thirty people.

The defense said videos used by the prosecution in the current trial were often inconclusive, and the case was based predominantly on conflicting police testimonies, even after some officers said they were not in fact hurt.

One of the defendants, Belousov, is accused of throwing a lemon at riot police.

Amnesty International classified six of the eight people on trial as prisoners of conscience and urged Russia to drop all the “purported mass riots” charges against the defendants.