Prison sentence for Russian actor caught up in protest arrests sparks popular backlash

A man holds a sign reading ‘Freedom for Pavel Ustinov’ as others wait their turn in the single-person picket outside the presidential administration – REX

A dubious prison sentence for a young actor arrested during demonstrations in Moscow has sparked a backlash from famous cultural figures who normally stay out of politics, raising pressure on the authorities over their crackdown on protesters.

Hundreds of people including well-known actors waited hours outside the presidential administration on Wednesday to take their turn in a single-person picket in support of Pavel Ustinov, 24, who was given a three and a half year prison sentence on Monday for allegedly dislocating a riot policeman’s shoulder during chaotic street protests in August.

Single-person pickets are the only form of protest that doesn’t typically result in arrests.

The court refused to consider videos showing that Mr Ustinov, who has played small roles in films, was calmly waiting outside a metro station when a group of riot police officers ran up and tackled him to the ground, beating him with batons.

“Our legal system is horrifying. There need to be reforms and investigations into why judges make these convictions and why security agencies act in this way,” Alexander Pal, an award-winning actor who called the pickets, told the Telegraph. 

Pavel Ustinov listens to his lawyer from the defendant’s cage on Monday Credit: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters 

More than a dozen men face dubious criminal charges in the “Moscow case” related to this summer’s demonstrations against the barring of liberal opposition candidates from the city council election. Four have been given lengthy prison sentences, and a blogger received five years for a threatening tweet about riot police officers’ families.

gathered signatures from actor Stephen Fry, the creators of the programme Game of Thrones and the former leaders of Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.” data-reactid=”34″>A letter against political repressions in Russia started by former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky has gathered signatures from actor Stephen Fry, the creators of the programme Game of Thrones and the former leaders of Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.

But the brazenness of the accusations against Mr Ustinov has caused the biggest outcry within Russia and mobilised the television and movie industry, much like groundless drugs charges against investigative reporter Ivan Golunov angered journalists and set off protests in June.

Mr Pal called on other actors to speak out against the “completely fabricated case” in an Instagram video, starting a flashmob of posts and signatures in Mr Ustinov’s support by directors and movie stars including Sergei Bezrukov, Oleg Menshikov and Yelizaveta Boyarskaya. More than 100,000 have signed a petition by Mr Pal to rehear the case.

Even some pro-Kremlin pundits and officials backed Mr Ustinov, such as reactionary talk show host Vladimir Solovyov and television and advertising personality Tina Kandelaki. Andrei Turchak, head of the ruling United Russia party, criticised the case as a “howling injustice”.

The queue for one-man protests by the Russian Presidential Executive Office stretched down the street Credit: Photo by Sergei Karpukhin\\TASS via Getty Images

said on Wednesday the Kremlin was aware of the demonstrations for Mr Ustinov and had watched video of his arrest, but said it wouldn’t take a position until the appeal process was over.” data-reactid=”51″>Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said on Wednesday the Kremlin was aware of the demonstrations for Mr Ustinov and had watched video of his arrest, but said it wouldn’t take a position until the appeal process was over.

The Kremlin keeps close tabs on popular figures. Mr Pal was freed after being arrested during a demonstration this summer thanks to a phone call from the presidential administration, a situation he described on Wednesday as an “absurdity”.

Signs this week suggested a possible thaw over the city council protests. On Wednesday, a court returned for further investigation the case against software engineer Aidar Gubaidullin, who was accused of throwing a plastic bottle at police during a protest, and released him on his own recognisance.

Mr Putin on Tuesday approved of a suggestion by the head of the communist party to meet with Kremlin-loyal opposition parties to discuss a “renovation of the electoral system”.

But a bizarre money laundering case against opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation continued to move forward, with a Moscow court reportedly awarding investigators another 47 search warrants. Law enforcement raided the homes and offices of more than 200 Navalny supporters last week.

Also on Wednesday, it became known that environmental activist Andrei Khristoforov had fled Russia after a criminal case was opened against him for shocking a police officer who was detaining him with an electric prod. The incident happened at protests against a tip being built for Moscow rubbish 700 miles away in the Arkhangelsk region.

At the picket on Wednesday, actors and directors denied that the support of pro-Kremlin figures had emboldened them to demonstrate.

“We need to get our colleague out, but ideally we need to free all of them,” said actor Roman Shalyapin, referring to those imprisoned in connection with the protests.

A group of women who have been picketing for political prisoners outside the presidential administration almost every for the past year outside welcomed the attention to Mr Ustinov’s case on Wednesday. Yet many still didn’t understand the systematic problems behind it, they said.

“People will unify for an actor, for a journalist, but there are other people in prison on fabricated cases,” said pensioner Tatyana Tarvid.