Russian court commutes sentence for actor at protest rally

National News
Pavel Ustinov

Russian actor Pavel Ustinov, who was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison for assaulting police at the July 27 rally, arrives for a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court on Monday commuted the prison sentence for a Moscow actor convicted of assaulting a police officer to a suspended one, in a case that sparked a public outcry and was criticized as an effort to intimidate anti-government protesters.

The Moscow City Court ruled that Pavel Ustinov should be punished with a one-year suspended sentence instead of 3 ½ years in prison.

Ustinov, 24 was found guilty earlier this month of assaulting a police officer at an opposition rally in July. He pleaded not guilty, saying he was simply waiting for a friend outside a subway station. Police said he resisted arrest and injured the officer.

Video from the scene showed Ustinov being tackled by police officers as he looked at his phone on the rally’s sidelines. A lower court had refused to admit these videos as evidence.

Ustinov told reporters after the hearing that he will continue with appeals to clear his name.

“I have not committed any crime,” Ustinov said.

The police officer told the court earlier that he suspected Ustinov because he was looking at his phone and “could be coordinating riots.”

Ustinov’s imprisonment caused an outcry, with people picketing the presidential administration building for days in a show of support. More than 25,000 people attended a rally Sunday in support of those who faced charges of rioting and assaulting the police at the July 27 rally.

Protests erupted in Moscow in July after officials refused to allow a dozen independent and opposition candidates to run for the Moscow city legislature in the Sept. 8 vote. Rallies drew crowds of up to 60,000 at a time, the largest show of discontent against President Vladimir Putin’s rule in seven years.

Russian police violently dispersed some of the election protests that weren’t sanctioned, detaining more than 2,400 people. Most were quickly released, but more than a dozen were charged with involvement in riots.

Amid the public outrage, the authorities dropped charges against some of the protesters, but several people have been sentenced to prison terms of up to four years and a few others are in still custody or under house arrest awaiting verdicts.

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