ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Two days after widespread anti-government rallies, protesters in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, are facing a severe crackdown with local courts sending dozens of them to jail.
Tens of thousands took to the streets across Russia's 11 time zones on Monday to protest government corruption. Some of the protests, like in Moscow and St. Petersburg, were explicitly banned by authorities and nearly 2,000 people were detained.
The crackdown on protesters appeared to be particularly severe in St. Petersburg, Russia's former imperial capital, where at least 26 people have been sentenced to five to 14 days in jail, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of protesters detained in Moscow were eventually released, with the exception of a few opposition leaders.
In St. Petersburg, several courts suspended their regular operations and were only processing the protesters' cases in hearings that stretched from late to Tuesday to the early hours of Wednesday, said Andrei Pivovarov, coordinator of the Open Russia civil society organization in St. Petersburg.
Svetlana Ratnikova, a lawyer who defended two protesters in St. Petersburg, said the decisions to fine or to jail a protester appeared to be random.
Pivovarov said the treatment of the protesters appeared to be much harsher than after a similar unsanctioned rally in March when most detainees were let go or were fined, and said she saw it as a scare tactic.
"This time the detainees, even those who were detained for the first time in their lives, were kept at police stations for up to 48 hours waiting for their court hearings," he told The Associated Press. "It was done to scare the protesters."
Some protesters posted pictures on social media, showing dozens of people taking a nap in the hall and on chairs at various police stations all over the city. The detainees also said they were not provided food or water and had to rely on volunteers to bring it for them.
Russia adopted tighter restrictions on public gatherings in 2012 in a clear reaction to massive anti-government protests that shook Russia in 2011 and early 2012.
Alexei Navalny, who called for the Monday rallies that were held in more than 100 cities and towns, himself was detained outside his home before heading to the protest and sentenced to 30 days in jail for staging an unsanctioned rally.
More protesters are expected to face court in St. Petersburg later on Wednesday.