Russia hands anti-Kremlin activist suspended sentence under ‘undesirable’ law

Anti-Kremlin activist Anastasia Shevchenko attends a court hearing in Rostov-On-Don
Anti-Kremlin activist Anastasia Shevchenko, who is accused of carrying out activities on behalf of Open Russia opposition group financed by exiled former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, attends a court hearing in the city of Rostov-On-Don, Russia February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov

February 18, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court handed Anastasia Shevchenko, an anti-Kremlin activist, a suspended four-year sentence on Thursday after finding her guilty of carrying out activities on behalf of an “undesirable” group, her lawyer said.

The ruling frees Shevchenko, 41, a mother of two in southern Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, from house arrest where she was put in 2019 in what supporters said was a politically motivated case to stop her activism and punish her for public dissent.

State prosecutors had asked the court to jail her for five years. She hugged her son in court after the sentence and was greeted with cheers by supporters as she left the court.

Shevchenko was accused of carrying out activities on behalf of Open Russia, a British-based group founded by exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

It is one of more than 30 groups that Russia has labelled as undesirable and banned under a law adopted in 2015.

Shevchenko’s supporters said the specific activities that led to her case – taking part in a political seminar and an anti-Kremlin rally – were legal forms of political expression.

They also said that the Open Russia movement, which she was part of, is a separate entity to the outlawed organisation.

The sentence comes amid a crackdown on allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny who returned to Russia last month after recovering from a nerve agent poisoning in Siberia.

Rights advocates say the laws on “undesirable” organisations and “foreign agents” can be used to pressure and target civil society members. Russia denies that and says the laws are needed to protect its national security from outside meddling.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan)