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Russian court convicts eight anti-Putin protesters

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

A Russian court Friday found eight people guilty of mass riots and attacking police at a 2012 protest against Vladimir Putin's third term in office.

The Zamoskvoretsky district court in Moscow found the seven men and one woman guilty of participating in mass riots and using violence against police, an AFP correspondent reported.

Around one thousand people stood in protest outside the heavily guarded tribunal including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as well as two members of the Pussy Riot punk band who complained they were barred from the courtroom.

Prosecutors have asked for prison terms of up to six years for the eight defendants.

The trial was adjourned and scheduled to continue on Monday when sentences are expected to be handed down.

The defence team and human rights organisations have called the proposed sentences disproportionately harsh.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the charge of "mass riots" is inappropriate and called the case politically motivated.

The trial previously included 12 people but four were released after qualifying for a Kremlin-backed general amnesty in December because they faced a lesser charge.

Of the remaining eight, Sergei Krivov, 52, and Alexandra Naumova, 20, face the harshest punishment after prosecutors in December requested they be jailed for six years.

Also facing prison terms are protesters Andrei Barabanov, Alexander Polikhovich, Artyom Savyolov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, and Artyom Belousov.

Police said 50 people were detained outside the court as protesters chanted "Shame to the police!" and hung posters on a tree. A rights monitoring group, Ovdinfo, estimated that 110 people were detained.

"I was (at the protest) and... any one of us could be on trial right now, it is terrible," said Nina, a middle-aged woman standing in the crowd.

- Accused of throwing a lemon -

Tens of thousands of people marched through central Moscow in a demonstration on May 6, 2012 to protest against Putin's third term but the rally ended in scuffles after walking into police ranks on Bolotnaya square.

Most of those on trial have been under arrest since 2012 and the trial known as the "Bolotnaya case" is seen by many as the symbol of Putin's crackdown on dissent.

The mass riot probe has already seen one person sentenced to four-and-a-half years on similar charges and a second committed to a psychiatric hospital.

The Bolotnaya clashes led to dozens of arrests and injuries on both sides. Investigators have said that the opposition planned to overthrow the government and destabilise the country.

Prosecutors have said that 82 people were injured. A massive probe into the events had split off into several different cases including a total of about 30 people.

The defence said videos used by the prosecution in the current trial were often inconclusive, and the case was based predominantly on conflicting police testimonies, even after some officers said they were not in fact hurt.

One of the defendants, Belousov, is accused of throwing a lemon at riot police.

Amnesty International classified six of the eight people on trial as prisoners of conscience and urged Russia to drop all the "purported mass riots" charges against the defendants.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140221/russian-court-convicts-eight-anti-putin-protesters