ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – A teacher went on trial Wednesday after publicly claiming that she was pressured to help rig Russia's parliamentary election to boost the results for Vladimir Putin's party.
Like many teachers and principals in Russia, Tatyana Ivanova was in charge of a polling station set up in the school where she worked.
She accused Natalya Nazarova, an education department official in St. Petersburg, of pressuring her and other poll workers to falsify the vote and instructing them on how to do it.
Ivanova now faces charges of damaging the education official's professional reputation and, if found guilty, could be ordered to pay compensation of up to 100,000 rubles, or about $3,300.
Putin's United Russia party won the December election and managed to cling to its majority in parliament, although observers reported widespread fraud. Anger over the manipulated vote set off a series of mass protests against Putin, the first he had faced in more than 12 years in power.
Putin returned to the Kremlin after winning a third presidential term in March, but he still faces an opposition eager to challenge his centralized control and push for free and fair elections.
Ivanova has seen an outpouring of public support, and dozens of her backers were in the courtroom on Wednesday.
"Millions of people in Russia are on your side," Grigory Yavlinsky, the veteran leader of a liberal opposition party, told Ivanova before the hearing.
"The falsifying of election results has been going on in Russia for the last 16 years," Yavlinsky said later in an interview with The Associated Press. "And this case demonstrates that society has finally realized how serious this problem is in the country."
Ivanova, a 53-year-old teacher of Russian language and literature, is one of the few poll workers who have been willing to speak publicly about the pressure they faced during the election. Her story was published in the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
"Maybe it was not a rational action, but at least it was not a cowardly one. I did it because I was too disgusted to falsify the vote, and I did it for my students, so that they would know that such things are wrong," Ivanova told the AP ahead of her trial.
Ivanova said she and the heads of other polling stations were told to add as many as 200 votes for United Russia and were offered money for their services. Some others also refused to falsify the vote, she said, but only one of them has agreed to testify in her support.
"People are afraid of losing their jobs," said Ivanova, who was close to retirement age and quit her job as a result of the scandal.
Nazarova did not attend Wednesday's hearing and her lawyer refused to comment.