Russia jails 13 in two-year Putin protest trial
MOSCOW - Agence France-PresseA Moscow court on Monday jailed three activists for up to 3.5 years in the conclusion of an explosive two-year trial that put 13 behind bars for clashing with police during protests over Vladimir Putin's presidential return.
The May 2012 altercation at the gates of the Kremlin spelled a bloody end to months of unprecedented street discontent with Putin's decision to swap his prime minister's seat with then-president Dmitry Medvedev and extend his dominance over Russia by at least six more years.
The tumult briefly troubled other big cities and openly challenged Putin for the first time since the former Soviet spy rose from obscurity to become Boris Yeltsin's anointed successor in 1999.
A visibly shaken Kremlin accused Washington of plotting the unrest to unseat Putin and then launched a wholesale political crackdown that brough Russia ever closer to its Soviet one-party past.
Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky District Court jailed Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin for 3.5 years for taking part in mass riots and the "use of violence against a representative of the authority that does not endanger human life or health."
The court jailed Ilya Gushin for 2.5 years and gave Natalia Susina a suspended sentence over the same offence.
Police outside the central Moscow court -- already renowned for sending Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky to prison for a decade on disputed business charges -- bundled into a waiting security van three people who had unfurled a "Russia is not a prison" banner in silent defiance.
Defence attorney Sergei Panchenko told the state RIA Novosti news agency that he intended to file a long-shot appeal despite the judge's decision to issue a slightly more lenient sentence than the prosecution's four-year jail term request.
Four of the 13 people jailed during the trial were released under a broad amnesty Putin issued in a seeming attempt to improve his image ahead of the February Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Protest organisers Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev are both serving 4.5-year jail sentences linked to the May 2012 altercation and other charges.
Amnesty International has denounced the entire process as "political".