Russian police detain hundreds of protesters as seven demonstrators are jailed for 2012 anti-Putin rally

The protesters blame police for the violence that erupted in Bolotnaya Square in 2012

More than a hundred protesters were detained by Russian police on Monday at a Moscow courthouse, where they were demonstrating against the imprisonment of seven opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

The demonstrators were demanding the release of the defendants, who were jailed from between two and a half to four years for an anti-government protest in central Moscow in 2012.

Protesters blame police for the violence that erupted in Bolotnaya Square two years ago.

They shouted "shame" and "Maidan" - a reference to the Kiev square that has been the focus of protests that brought the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

Among those detained were two members of the punk protest band Pussy Riot, who were released in December near the end of two-year sentences for their own anti-Putin protest in Moscow’s main cathedral in 2012.

Top opposition leader Alexei Navalny was also held.

Relatives and lawyers of the seven said they believed that events in neighbouring Ukraine, where police were among the dead in a conflict the Kremlin blames on opposition leaders and the West, had prompted the court to impose prison sentences in a bid to deter similar actions in Russia.

Defence lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky told Reuters he would appeal his client Yaroslav Belousov's two-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

"These sentences are cruel and wrong. They were handed down because of the political situation...We hope our appeal will show that they made a mistake and the defendants won't have to answer for the Maidan."

Opposition activists said more than 230 people were detained by riot police grabbing protesters and dragging them to waiting buses. Police put the figure at more than 100.

The defendants were found guilty on Friday of rioting and attacking police at a protest on 6 May 2012, the day before Putin returned to the presidency after a stint as prime minster.

An eighth defendant was given a suspended sentence.

The defendants - seven men and a woman, most of them in their 20s - blame police for the clashes that occurred and pleaded not guilty. The men have been in custody since 2012.

The sentences are likely to draw criticism from the United States and European countries that have expressed concern about the trial and have accused Russia of restricting the freedom of assembly and expression.

Government opponents called for a protest on Manezh Square just outside the Kremlin later on Monday. Police mounted a major presence on the square ahead of the planned protest.

After reading part of the verdict on Friday, trial judge Natalya Nikishina abruptly called a break until Monday, stirring speculation the Kremlin wanted to keep the sentences under wraps until after the Olympic closing ceremony.

Putin denies interfering in court cases, but has said anyone who attacks police must be punished.

Additional reporting by Reuters


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