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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

28 Detained After Rowdy Courthouse Rally

ReutersOMON riot police detaining Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin at a rally.
A noisy rally by supporters of Mikhail Khodorkovsky outside the court ended in a brawl Monday, with police detaining 28 people, including Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin, and beating former chess champion Garry Kasparov with batons.

About 300 people -- a mix of children, students, middle-aged adults and pensioners -- rallied outside the Meshchansky District Court at noon as judges inside started reading the verdict in the 11-month trial of Yukos founders Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.

Some boarded buses and trams and rode down the street outside the courthouse, waving flags from the windows and drawing loud cheers from the crowd every time they passed by. Cars drove past honking in support.

The protesters chanted, "Down with the FSB authorities! Freedom for Khodorkovsky and bread and water for Putin," "Putin is not Russia, we are!" and "Freedom! Freedom!"

A young man wearing a black leather jacket played hip-hop songs about Khodorkovsky on a boom box.

Police, who kept the crowd on a sidewalk across the street from the courthouse, ordered the protesters to disperse at 2 p.m., when the two hours sanctioned by city authorities for the rally expired. Many protesters stayed.

OMON riot police then arrived, and officers began to drag a few of the protesters toward police buses. Other protesters, chanting "Shame, shame," tried to free the detainees, and a scuffle broke out.

Twenty-eight protesters, including Mitrokhin, were detained, and they were to appear before a judge in the Meshchansky District Court on Tuesday, Yabloko spokesman Sergei Kazakov said, Interfax reported. They face charges of disobeying police orders and violating a law on holding large rallies.

OMON officers also attempted to detain Kasparov, who heads the liberal Committee-2008 opposition group, and beat him with batons when he refused to go with them to a police bus.

"People were simply standing on the sidewalk, not hindering traffic or pedestrians," Kasparov told Ekho Moskvy radio later Monday. "The OMON were deployed against peaceful, unarmed people. People were pulled out of the crowd and beaten up. ... Those who organized this carnage must be arrested."

Shortly before the clash, Kasparov said the rally showed that public discontent was growing. "There is not yet the critical mass needed for an uprising like the one in Kiev, " Kasparov said. "But the people here today and the fact that the police are trying to round them up shows that the powers-that-be are afraid."

Several protesters at the rally heaped praise on Khodorkovsky and said he was a person to emulate.

"Khodorkovsky was jailed unjustly. It is a political case. My father told me so, and I think so, too," said Vladimir Bolotovsky, 12, who came from Voronezh with his father, a lawyer, to attend the rally.

"He is smart and talented and an example for me," he said, adding that he planned to study chemistry. Khodorkovsky earned a chemistry degree.

He was echoed by Yulia Bardina, a pensioner carrying a poster reading, "My grandson asks whom to model his life on. I say: Khodorkovsky."


Vladimir Filonov / MT

Bolotovsky called Khodorkovsky "smart and talented and an example for me."

"He is smart, talented, honest and noble, courageous. He created a big company and gave jobs to thousands of people. He helped universities and schools, and there are many more things than we can count," Bardina said.

"He has done a lot for his country, too, and not like the other so-called oligarchs who think only of themselves," she said. "He could have done a lot more, but those [activities] were frowned upon, and he is now in jail."

Many people acknowledged that they doubted Khodorkovsky would be set free.

"I think that if he were to be let go, people would get the signal that in the same way as the Ukrainian Orange Revolution they can succeed if they fight -- even in the face of a lot of resistance from the authorities. Therefore, he will not be allowed to go free," said Irina Khakamada, a former presidential candidate and leader of the liberal Our Choice party. She was wearing an orange scarf, which she called a scarf of resistance.

A small group of people, gathered several dozen meters away for a rally of their own, felt much less compassion for Khodorkovsky. A woman wearing a badge with Yukos crossed out said he deserved to go to prison.

"I bought vouchers in a cement factory. Now they're not worth anything. That's because these people took everything and put it all in their pockets," said the woman, who only gave her name as Nadezhda.

"Look at [Roman] Abramovich. Look at how much he seized, and look at how much money he's throwing around," she said. "They haven't gone after him yet, but they will do."

Walking out of the court, Khodorkovsky's father, Boris, told supporters that his son had appreciated their cheering. "He sat and smiled," the father said. "He's tired, of course."

Staff Writer Catherine Belton contributed to this report.