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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

39 National Bolsheviks Go on Trial

Crammed into three defendants' cages, 39 members of the ultranationalist National Bolshevik Party went on trial Thursday on public disorder charges linked to their brief seizure of a presidential administration office in central Moscow in December.

The number of defendants in the closed trial appears to be a record in post-Soviet Russia.

A prosecutor told the court that the defendants had "destabilized the normal functioning of a state institution" when they stormed the public reception room of the presidential administration building during an anti-Kremlin demonstration on Dec. 14.

"They rudely violated the public order and, neglecting commonly accepted rules of conduct, engaged in a public disturbance that hindered officials' execution of duties," the unidentified prosecutor said, Interfax reported.

If convicted of public disorder, the defendants would face up to eight years in prison.

Among the defendants are nine women and eight people who were under the age of 18 when the seizure took place, National Bolshevik leader and writer Eduard Limonov said by telephone.

Limonov said defense lawyers told him that three steel-rod cages had been set up inside the courtroom to accommodate the defendants, who have been held in custody since riot police officers arrested them in the seized office. He was barred from the hearing.

Breaking into the office was the more audacious of the movement's many escapades, which include throwing eggs and mayonnaise at senior officials and unfurling giant posters on buildings that call for President Vladimir Putin to resign.

The National Bolshevik Party, arguably the most outspoken movement in its criticism of the government, has faced a harsher crackdown by the authorities than any other opposition group. At total of 48 members are serving prison terms after being convicted on charges of vandalism and hooliganism linked to public protests, defense lawyer Vitaly Varivoda said.

Many political analysts and human rights activists have condemned the crackdown as a Kremlin attempt to silence an enthusiastic opposition group.

On Wednesday, the Moscow region court ordered the group to disband, siding with prosecutors who argued that the group was illegally masquerading as a political party and that it was extremist because many of its members had been arrested in recent years.

Limonov on Thursday accused the authorities of deliberately making sure that the trial of the 39 activists followed the court order to disband.

"Now it will be much easier to prosecute them as members of a banned organization," he said, stressing that "not a single drop of blood was spilled in any of our actions."