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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mayor's Case Called Political

Itar-TassArkhangelsk Mayor Alexander Donskoi listening as a judge gives him a one-year suspended sentence Sept. 4.
A leading human rights activist called jailed Arkhangelsk Mayor Alexander Donskoi a "political prisoner" Monday.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said Donskoi had been arrested because of his political ambitions.

"He was cruelly punished just for announcing his intention to run for president," she said at a news conference with Donskoi's wife, son and lawyer.

Donskoi said in October that he would run for president. Shortly afterward, Arkhangelsk prosecutors began to investigate him on suspicion of abuse of office and faking his university diploma.

He was arrested in July by masked law enforcement officers, who dragged him out of his apartment in his underwear. Last week, he received a suspended one-year sentence on the fake diploma charge. He remains in custody pending an investigation into charges of abuse of office that could result in a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Donskoi has said he is being persecuted by his political rival, Arkhangelsk Governor Nikolai Kiselyov.

Larisa Smirnova, a spokeswoman for Kiselyov, denied on Monday that the investigation of Donskoi was politically motivated.

Alexeyeva linked Donskoi's arrest to a nationwide campaign against mayors, who remain chosen by direct vote even though governors are now appointed by the president. Dozens of mayors have been investigated on criminal charges this year in what political analysts see as a campaign to instill greater loyalty to the Kremlin.

In a separate development, Donskoi's supporters said last week that he had applied to join A Just Russia, the pro-Kremlin party created by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov as a center-left alternative to United Russia. An assistant to Donskoi said at Monday's news conference that the mayor would be a good addition to the party. "This is sort of a test," Oleg Grigamash said. "If they're really an independent political force, then it's a perfect opportunity for them."

Party spokesman Alexander Morozov said he could not comment because the party had not received a formal membership application from Donskoi.