A Russian court has sentenced a key ally of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny to 18 months of restricted movement after finding her guilty of inciting people to break COVID-19 safety regulations.
Lyubov Sobol was charged on Tuesday over her allegedly calling for Russians to attend an unsanctioned street protest in January in support of Navalny. She had initially been placed under house arrest.
Sobol was ordered to remain at home between the hours of 10pm and 6 am for a year and a half, her lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, said in a post on Twitter.
The 33-year-old was also banned from leaving Moscow and attending mass events. Furthermore, she must check in with the police three times a month.
Sobol, who is a prominent aide of Navalny’s and was formerly a lawyer for his now-shuttered Anti-Corruption Foundation, has dismissed the charge levelled against her as politically motivated.
She tweeted on Tuesday that she was “removed from the courtroom” for filming the judge announcing the sentence.
‘A fictitious case’
Fellow activists condemned the verdict.
“A year and a half of restricted freedom for a fictitious case without victims,” Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who is herself currently under house arrest, said in a post on Twitter.
Several other close Navalny allies, including his brother, are currently awaiting a verdict in the so-called “sanitary case”, in which opposition figures were accused of breaching coronavirus regulations at rallies in support of Navalny held earlier this year.
Navalny, 44, is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critic.
He is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for alleged parole violations relating to a 2014 embezzlement conviction he has denounced as fabricated.
He was arrested in January upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. The government denies the accusation.
Navalny’s imprisonment sparked a wave of mass protests earlier this year across Russia’s 11 time zones, in what appeared to be a major challenge to the Kremlin.
But authorities responded swiftly with mass arrests of demonstrators and the criminal prosecution of Navalny’s closest associates.
Navalny and his allies say Russia’s authorities are using the country’s legal system to crush dissenting voices in the lead-up to parliamentary elections in September.
In June, a Russian court approved a prosecutor’s request to declare organisations linked to Navalny “extremist”, in effect outlawing them and preventing his allies from taking part in the poll.
The polls are widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before the 2024 presidential election.
Putin, 68, has been in power for more than two decades and last year he pushed through constitutional changes that would potentially allow him to stay in office until 2036.