World News

Russia jails top rights activist over protest

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court on Wednesday jailed a leading rights activist and Kremlin critic for three days for taking part in an unsanctioned protest in Moscow, one of the organizers of the protest said.

Moscow’s Presnensky court sentenced veteran activist Lev Ponomaryov, 68, to three days in prison for disobeying a police order for protesters to disperse, said activist Olga Shorina, who was in the courtroom. Russian state news agencies also reported the sentence.

Ponomaryov was detained with opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and about 20 other people on Sunday when they tried to march down a main Moscow avenue without permission.

The protest was part of a series of demonstrations to assert what the opposition says is its constitutional right to protest without permission from the authorities.

The rallies, which are widely seen as a test of President Dmitry Medvedev’s promise to boost civil society in Russia, are routinely broken up by police.

The reports of Ponomaryov’s jailing prompted a reaction from Washington.

“We are disappointed that some Russian authorities continue to deny Russians citizens their constitutional rights,” said Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

The Presnensky court said there was not enough evidence to jail Nemtsov, who was accused of the same crime.

“It’s a crazy decision,” Nemtsov said by phone. “There is no reason why they let me go and jailed Ponomaryov. The only explanation is that the judge was pressured by the authorities.”

Writing by Conor Humphries; additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Washington; Editing by Noah Barkin