Husband of Russian activist jailed for 5 years

March 15, 2012 - 2:26 PM
Russia Businessman Trial

Russian businessman Alexei Kozlov reads papers as he sits in a court in Moscow, Tuesday, March 13, 2012. Alexei Kozlov, the husband of prominent journalist Olga Romanova, had spent two years in jail after being convicted of fraud. He was released in September after the Supreme Court overturned the verdict, but his case is being retried in Moscow. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court sentenced the husband of an opposition activist to five years in prison on Thursday in a case that has outraged anti-Kremlin protesters.

Also Thursday, separate Moscow courts sentenced opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov to 10 days in jail for disobeying police during a protest rally last weekend and ordered Alexei Navalny, perhaps the most charismatic of the protest leaders, to pay a fine of 1,000 rubles ($33) for disobeying police orders at a rally earlier this month.

The case against Alexei Kozlov dates back to 2008, when he was arrested on charges of fraud related to a business deal with a former member of parliament. He was initially sentenced to eight years in prison, but his wife, journalist Olga Romanova, successfully battled the legal system until the Supreme Court overturned her husband's conviction and ordered him released in September.

Along the way, Romanova founded a group called Russia Behind Bars to help other wives who believe their husbands have been wrongly jailed for economic crimes. Tens of thousands of businessmen are in prison in Russia, where the court system is weak and corrupt prosecutors and judges are used to take over companies or settle business disputes.

In the case of Kozlov, prosecutors quickly made it clear they were not giving up and filed formal charges on Monday, the day after the latest opposition protest in Moscow against Vladimir Putin's rule.

The timing bolstered opposition claims the charges were filed as retribution for Kozlov's wife's political activism. Romanova was among the organizers of a series of anti-Putin protests in recent months that drew tens of thousands of people in Moscow.

At Saturday's protest, she and others gathered signatures for a petition in support of Kozlov.

As Kozlov was led from the courtroom on Thursday, a crowd of supporters shouted "Shame!"

Udaltsov played a key role in organizing the peaceful protests, but he has taken a more confrontational approach since Putin won a March 4 presidential election to extend his rule for six more years.

After an opposition rally on March 5, Udaltsov tried to lead his supporters in occupying a central square in Moscow. Riot police moved in and detained him and more than 200 others. Police detained Udaltsov again after Saturday's protest to prevent him from leading his supporters on another march.

Udaltsov, who leads a movement called Left Front, said Thursday that he would appeal the 10-day jail sentence and declared a hunger strike. He has been detained dozens of times in recent years and spent nearly three months in prison last year.