Russian court hands prison terms to youth group members

Associated Press

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The group was accused of preparing to carry out attacks during Russia’s March 2018 presidential election and when Russia hosted the World Cup soccer tournament later that year, but the investigators failed to document those early claims during the trial.

Some of the defendants initially pleaded guilty to the charges, but later withdrew their confessions and said they were tortured while in the custody of the FSB, Russia’s security service, into incriminating themselves. The case against the group was largely based on these confessions.

The case has elicited a lot of outrage and prompted several protests over the past few years. Earlier this year, human rights advocates wrote a letter to President Vladimir Putin, demanding an investigation of possible torture of the group’s members. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response that Putin did initiate a probe into the allegations. It remains unclear what the findings were.

The verdict on Monday once again sparked protests, with up to 80 people gathering near the courthouse and chanting “Shame!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”. Filip Shchelkanov, one of the supporters of the group, told The Associated Press he was sure they were tortured. “They are not guilty of terrorism,” said Shchelkanov, 32.

About 30 people have been detained, according to media reports. Footage showed police officers in riot gear dragging protesters to police vans.

Yevgenia Kulakova, Filinkov’s lawyer, said the defense would appeal the verdict.

“The materials of this case were fabricated not only at the stage of the preliminary investigation, but the court itself falsified the materials,” Kulakova said.

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