Saturday 19 October 2019

Russian court frees jailed actor after outcry over 'brutality'

Released: Pavel Ustinov was accused of using violence against a police officer. Photo: Reuters/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
Released: Pavel Ustinov was accused of using violence against a police officer. Photo: Reuters/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth

A Russian court ordered the release of an aspiring actor whose prison sentence for injuring a police officer on the sidelines of an opposition protest sparked a public outcry over alleged police brutality and judicial injustice.

The release yesterday of Pavel Ustinov, pending the outcome of his appeal, is a rare reversal by the Russian judicial system and follows a groundswell of public support for the 23-year-old.

But others sentenced in connection with a summer of Moscow protests calling for free elections remain behind bars, and Mr Ustinov's case is seen by some opposition activists as a way of de-escalating tensions with Kremlin critics while avoiding bigger concessions.

Footage of his arrest on August 3, which went viral, showed him scrolling through his mobile phone as he stood near a Moscow metro station, apparently minding his own business, as police disperse an opposition protest nearby.

Four national guardsmen in full riot gear are then seen suddenly grabbing Mr Ustinov, pushing him to the ground, and beating him with their truncheons before marching him off. One of the guardsmen is seen falling over in the melee.

Mr Ustinov said he'd not been taking part in the nearby protest, one of several held this summer to demand free elections to the Russian capital's assembly. His protests fell on deaf ears and a court on Monday sentenced him to three-and-a-half years in prison after finding him guilty of hurting the guardsman who fell. Prosecutors had wanted a harsher sentence of six years.

Anger swiftly bubbled over, with Russian celebrities taking to social media to demand Mr Ustinov be freed.

A Moscow court yesterday duly ordered Mr Ustinov's release from custody until an appeal against his sentence, due on Thursday next week.

Irish Independent

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