February 22, 2017 / 9:43 AM / 2 years ago

Russian Supreme Court scraps conviction of opposition activist

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday overturned the conviction of anti-Kremlin activist Ildar Dadin, who was the first person sent to jail under new rules that made staging some forms of non-violent protest a criminal offence.

Dadin was sentenced in December 2015 to three years in jail - later reduced on appeal to two and a half years - for conducting a series of peaceful, one-man protests against Kremlin rule.

Conducting protests without official permission was previously punishable by a fine. But new rules adopted after mass protests in Moscow that followed President Vladimir Putin’s 2012 election made it a criminal offence, punishable with jail term, to stage the protests more than twice in 180 days.

Dadin alleged that he was subjected to physical torture by prison staff while in a penal colony in northwest Russia - an allegation that officials denied. He became a cause celebre among Kremlin opponents who say their right to dissent is being steadily crushed.

He is now likely to be released within days after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

That ruling came after the Constitutional Court on Feb. 10 ordered a review of Dadin’s conviction, arguing that the law criminalizing certain types of protests had to be applied more proportionately.

Dadin’s lawyer, Ksenya Kostromina, told Reuters the activist may have to wait until Feb. 27 to be freed, because of a combination of bureaucracy, an upcoming public holiday and the weekend.

Asked about his plans once released, the lawyer said: “When we last spoke, he intended without doubt to continue his activities, including his protest activities.”

However his wife, Anastasia Zotova, said she wanted her husband to leave Russia.

“I am afraid he will be released and arrested again the following day. I have seen already how it is when a man is jailed for nothing and tortured for nothing,” Zotova told Moscow’s private Dozhd TV station.

In a report issued Wednesday, the London-based Amnesty International rights watchdog said restrictions on rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly tightened in Russia in 2016. Russian officials say that they respect and uphold democratic freedoms.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Christian Lowe and Alison Williams

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