MOSCOW – A prominent Russian opposition activist had barely half an hour of freedom on Sunday before being sentenced to 10 more days in jail -- making it the 14th time this year he's been detained.
The decision by a Moscow court late Sunday to find Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov guilty of a charge of resisting police came a day after Russia witnessed the largest protest rally in its post-Soviet history. As demonstrators vented frustration Saturday with the scandal-marred parliamentary election of Dec. 4 that left Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in control, many prominent figures called for Udaltsov's release.
How the Kremlin chooses to deal with Udaltsov could prove a litmus test for how it approaches the opposition in the coming days. During Putin's decade-plus long tenure as president and prime minister, opposition activists have faced numerous crackdowns, but their cause appears to have been boosted by allegations of fraud during the recent election.
The Left Front leader was due to be released Sunday from a hospital, where he was being treated as he served the final days of his previous sentence. Udaltsov, who had been held since election day on claims of staging an unsanctioned rally, had spent much of the month on a hunger strike.
Found guilty of resisting police, Udaltsov was escorted back to the hospital Sunday night after he felt unwell in court.
"He was so stressed out that he fell ill," Udaltsov's lawyer, Nikolay Polozov, said.
Prominent opposition leaders came to the court to support Udaltsov. Many have referred to his constant detentions as political harassment. The Left Front leader has spent at least 50 days in jail this year.
The court on Sunday found that Udaltsov resisted police on Oct. 24 while being detained outside the Central Election Committee's building.
A video of his detention, filmed by the Associated Press Television, shows the activist arrive on a bicycle and later talk to reporters.
Udaltsov was telling the press that he had come out to the election committee's headquarters to stage a one-man picket, which requires no sanction from authorities. Shortly afterwards, police came and took Udaltsov away. Udaltsov did not appear to be putting resistance.
Udaltsov's lawyer said they would appeal the verdict.