September 4, 2019 / 2:13 PM / 15 days ago

Russia jails two more protesters ahead of Sunday's Moscow vote

Participant of a recent rally to demand free elections Kirill Zhukov stands inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court sentenced two men to up to three and a half years in jail on Wednesday for using violence against police officers at a political protest calling for a free election on Sunday.

The jail terms, which the opposition said were clearly disproportionate, are among the longest to be handed down to protesters since Russia’s biggest protests in years erupted this summer over a local election in the capital.

Protesters wanted a slew of opposition-minded candidates to take part in the Sept. 8 vote for Moscow’s legislature, but they were barred from doing so for failing to gather enough signatures of support, something the opposition said is a lie.

Police have briefly detained more than 2,000 people at the protests and opened criminal investigations. Two men were jailed on Tuesday for attacking police at one of the protests and became the first people who took part in the rallies to be given lengthy prison terms.

On Wednesday, courts convicted two more people, including Kirill Zhukov, 28, who was jailed for three years for hitting a police officer’s helmet at a July 27 protest, charges he denied.

His supporters said the sentence was grossly unfair and that it was clear from footage of the incident that Zhukov had barely touched the policeman’s helmet.

Hours later, another court in Moscow found 48-year-old protester Yevgeny Kovalenko guilty of the same crime and jailed him for three and a half years.

Kovalenko, who also denied the charges, was shown in footage circulated online throwing a rubbish bin towards police officers as they detained protesters at a protest.

Around 60,000 people attended an authorised opposition rally on Aug. 10 in Moscow, which a monitoring group called the country’s biggest political protest for eight years. But an unauthorised protest last weekend attracted only a few thousand.

Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh, Maxim Rodionov and Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alison Williams

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