Russian Protest Leader Put Under House Arrest

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Correction Appended

MOSCOW -- A Moscow district court ordered Sergei Udaltsov, a prominent opposition leader, to be placed under house arrest on Saturday, in one of the most assertive legal measures to date against a leader of the anti-Kremlin protests that began more than a year ago.

Mr. Udaltsov, the leader of the radical socialist Left Front movement, faces a charge of conspiracy to incite mass disorder under a statute that can bring a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. According to Saturday's ruling, he may not leave his house, use the Internet, receive letters or communicate with anyone outside his family and legal team until April 6, the current date for the end of the investigation into his case.

The ruling seemed to signal a new stage in the government's effort to punish well-known critics of President Vladimir V. Putin. Though most of the prominent protest leaders have served short sentences for administrative violations and several are the subject of criminal inquiries, none has yet been held or brought to trial on criminal charges.

The authorities may have held back from jailing protest leaders like Mr. Udaltsov for fear of inciting a backlash from opposition sympathizers. Mr. Udaltsov has a particular ability to mobilize young men and is one of the few opposition leaders to focus on economic issues relevant to Russians outside large cities. A passionate public speaker and the great-grandson of a prominent Bolshevik, Mr. Udaltsov stood out among the Moscow protesters, many of them middle-class Russians who distance themselves from calls for revolution.

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Udaltsov said that he had broken no laws and that the house arrest order had a "strictly political character."

"They have gotten to the point of open fabrication and lies," he said. "My civic activity just angers the authorities, angers law enforcement structures, and they are taking steps to isolate me from taking part in civic life."

During Saturday's hearing, prosecutors also claimed that Mr. Udaltsov had threatened to attack his wife, Anastasia, and that she at one point had fled to Ukraine with their children. A judge refused to allow Mr. Udaltsov's wife to testify in court on Saturday, but she told the daily newspaper Novaya Gazeta that the accusation was "a total lie."

Mr. Udaltsov has been accused of attacking the police and of rioting at an anti-Putin demonstration that ended in clashes between the riot police and protesters last May, and of attempting to organize antigovernment riots in cities across Russia.

Mr. Udaltsov has been under a travel ban since October, but prosecutors said that he had gone outside Moscow and continued to lead public rallies while under investigation.

A statement from investigators charged that Mr. Udaltsov "has not lived at his registered address for a long time, his mobile telephone is often switched off, making it difficult to summon the accused to investigators." The statement also said Mr. Udaltsov "does not inform the investigation of his factual location."

Saturday's ruling came at the request of the powerful Investigative Committee, which has recently revived several stalled criminal investigations against Russian opposition leaders including Aleksei Navalny, a popular blogger and corruption whistle-blower.

Mr. Udaltsov, in his closing arguments, told the judge that if he was placed under house arrest, he would like the state to afford him a 13-room apartment, a cook and a maid -- a reference to the house-arrest conditions reportedly granted to a Defense Ministry official facing corruption charges.

Correction: February 9, 2013, Saturday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Sergei Udaltsov's family ties. He is the great-grandson of a prominent Bolshevik, not the grandson.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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