Sergei Udaltsov, a key figure of the Russian opposition, was placed under a two-month house arrest by a Russian court on Saturday.
The leader of the radical socialist Left Front coalition is charged with taking part in and attacking the police during a protest organized against Vladimir Putin last May on the eve of his third presidential inauguration as well as with conspiring to organize a “mass disorder” with two other key opposition leaders to be organized in cities throughout Russia.
The charges of plotting President Putin’s overthrow stem from a footage aired by pro-Kremlin NTV channel in October 2012. The footage showed Udaltsov, Razvozzhayev and Konstantin Lebedev, all three members of the Left Front, meeting Givi Targamadze, a Georgian politician, seemingly to create a plan on how to seize power in Russia. The clip also suggested that Udaltsov had intended to bring Chechen fighters to assist in organizing the overthrow. Udaltsov has denied the authenticity of the video and has claimed that it is part of the current leadership's crusade against the opposition.
While Udaltsov was arrested in October 2012 and subsequently released, his two alleged plot allies have already been charged in the probe. Razvozzhayev's case particularly raised international concern after he claimed he had been taken across the Russia-Ukraine border by abductors, who turned out to be Russian intelligence agents, and tortured into making his original, false declarations, as he claimed that he had been kept for two days without food and water and threatened to be killed if he did not confess to planning riots aiming to overthrow President Putin.
The court motivated its decision to place the activist under house arrest by emphasizing that Udaltsov could flee abroad or pursue his alleged criminal intentions. According to the court’s decision, Udaltsov must remain in his apartment, is only permitted to communicate with his lawyers and closest relatives and is prohibited from using the Internet. If convicted, the opposition leader could face up to 10 years in jail.
The Federal Investigative Committee, which answers only to Putin, placed Udaltsov under a travel ban in October 2012, but emphasized, during his court hearing, that he had not complied, as he had left Moscow and continued to attend political rallies, while under investigation. In a statement, the committee accused Udaltsov of being uncooperative, by highlighting the fact that the opposition leader “has not lived at his registered address for a long time, his mobile telephone is often switched off, making it difficult to summon the accused to investigators." The committee added that Udaltsov "continues to commit illegal acts", in that he had taken part in an unauthorized protest.
The house arrest will end on April 6, when the official investigation should conclude.
Rejecting the charges brought against him as politically motivated, Udaltsov said prior to the trial: “My civic activity just angers the authorities, angers law enforcement structures, and they are taking steps to isolate me from taking part in civic life.”
According to Human Rights Watch, in 2012, Russian civil society faced the worst repression since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Thus far, 19 people are being prosecuted for the May 2012 unrest, 12 of whom are in pre-trial detention, facing each 10 years in jail, while one person has already been convicted. So far, Udaltsov’s house arrest is the strongest legal measure taken against a leader of the anti-Kremlin protests commenced in December 2011 over allegations that the recent parliamentary elections had been rigged. While other key opposition figures have served short sentences for administrative violations and are currently undergoing criminal inquiries, none has yet been held or brought to trial on criminal charges.