A former mayor of Russia’s fourth-largest city was sentenced to spend 14 days in custody Thursday awaiting trial on charges that could carry a longer prison sentence, part of authorities’ efforts to gag dissent.
Yevgeny Roizman, a harsh critic of the Kremlin, is one of the most visible and charismatic opposition figures in Russia. He enjoyed widespread popularity while serving as mayor of Yekaterinburg, a city of 1.5 million people in the Ural Mountains.
Last year, Roizman, 60, who served as mayor from 2013 to 2018, was accused of bringing the Russian military into disrepute and barred from attending public events, using the internet, telephone or mail, and communicating with anyone not were his lawyers and immediate family members awaiting his trial.
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Police arrested Roizman on Thursday for allegedly republishing material containing a reference to the organization led by imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny that was banned by the authorities. Roizman denied the allegations during a court hearing in Yekaterinburg after his detention and insisted that he wasn’t even registered on that social network. His attorney argued that the repost was made by members of one of his many support groups.
Despite Roizman’s arguments, the Yekaterinburg court sentenced him to 14 days in prison. The ruling would prevent him from running in elections scheduled for the end of the year, although Roizman has not expressed his intention to participate in the race.
It was unclear whether authorities would use his conviction to keep him behind bars for violating an order not to use the Internet. It was also unclear what the ruling would mean for his separate trial on charges of discrediting the military which is due to open later this month.
Courts repeatedly fined Roizman last year on charges of bringing the military into disrepute, and he could face up to three years in prison for repeat offending if convicted.
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Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine last year, Russian lawmakers passed legislation banning allegedly flouting the Russian military or spreading “false information” about the country’s military operation in Ukraine . Courts across the country have increasingly handed down prison sentences to critics of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Roizman was one of the few visible opposition figures in Russia who had not yet been jailed or fled the country under pressure from the authorities. A prominent opposition politician, Ilya Yashin, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison on charges of bringing the army into disrepute, and another prominent opposition figure, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was jailed on the same charges and is now facing trial.
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Kara-Murza’s health has deteriorated significantly behind bars, his lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said. The politician was unable to attend a court hearing on Thursday and it was canceled, Prokhorov said on Facebook. The defense will work to take the politician to a civilian hospital for tests and treatment and to release him from custody pending trial, Prokhorov said.