MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian opposition activist and her husband were handed prison sentences Thursday on drug charges they rejected as a sham.
A court in Pskov in northwestern Russia convicted Lia Milushkina and her husband Artyom Milushkin on charges of selling illegal drugs, and sentenced them to 10 1/2 and 11 years respectively. They have dismissed the accusations as politically motivated.
After hearing the verdict, Milushkin broke a bench inside a metal cage in the courtroom where he was placed during the hearing. He claimed during the trial that police officers threatened to plant drugs on him.
Milushkina, who was the Pskov coordinator for the Open Russia opposition group, and her husband who also was an opposition activist, have remained in custody since their arrest in January 2019.
Open Russia was financed by Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Open Russia’s leaders dissolved the group in May to protect its members from prosecution after Russian authorities designated it as an “undesirable” organization, along with scores of others, using a 2015 law that made membership in such organizations a criminal offense.
Two Russian news outlets and a legal aid group backed by Khodorkovsky also shut down last week after authorities blocked their websites over their alleged ties to “undesirable” organizations.
The crackdown on Open Russia was part of a far-ranging sweep of opposition groups and critical media ahead of the Sept. 19 parliamentary election, which is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before the next presidential election in 2024.