Restricted freedom Opposition politician Lyubov Sobol handed parole-like sentence in the ‘Sanitary Case’
After months spent under house arrest and restrictive pre-trial measures, Russian opposition politician Lyubov Sobol was given a 1.5-year parole-like sentence on August 3, as part of the so-called “Sanitary Case.” State investigators launched the criminal case against Sobol and nine other well-known activists and politicians back in January, in connection with a demonstration in support of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny. According to the investigation, the defendants in the case called on Navalny’s supporters to attend the rally and thereby incited violations of public health regulations amid the coronavirus pandemic. Sobol’s lawyer says his client — who is already on probation in connection with a felony trespassing case — plans to challenge the verdict.
On Tuesday, August 3, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol was handed one and a half years of “restrictions on freedom” in connection with the so-called “Sanitary Case.” According to the prosecution, Sobol and the other defendants in the case called for a pro-Navalny rally, which took place in Moscow on January 23, 2021, and thus incited people to violate public health regulations. Prosecutors had sought two years of restricted freedom for Sobol.
The court banned Sobol from leaving her home between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., as well as from attending public gatherings, and traveling outside of Moscow and the Moscow region, said her lawyer Vladimir Voronin. The court also ordered Sobol to report to the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) branch closest to her place of residence three times a month. Voronin said that taking into account the time his client has already spent under house arrest and preventive measures, her sentence will expire in July 2022. The lawyer added that the court’s ruling will be appealed. Sobol herself was removed from the courtroom during the announcement of the verdict for trying to film the proceedings.
Initially, there were 10 defendants in the “Sanitary Case” — including a number of Navalny’s associates and activists from Pussy Riot. All of the defendants were placed under house arrest or banned from certain activities pending trial. In June, investigators dropped the charges against one of the defendants in the case — municipal deputy Konstantin Yankauskas. A month earlier, Yankauskas had announced that he would not be running in the State Duma elections this fall due to the death of his father.
In April, a “perpetrator” appeared in the case — a protester who attended the pro-Navalny demonstration despite the fact that he was supposed to be self-isolating due to a COVID-19 infection. He was fined the equivalent of $1,370. Moscow resident Dani Akel Tammam tested positive for the coronavirus on January 16 and attended the demonstration on January 23, prior to the end of his two-week quarantine. According to Akel, he “couldn’t stand aside.” The day before the rally, he underwent a rapid test for COVID-19 and it came back negative — what he didn’t know was that this has no legal force. Akel denied claims that he attended the rally under “the influence of calls” from the other defendants in the “Sanitary Case.”
Akel is the only defendant in the case who allegedly violated public health regulations (although Moscow’s pandemic headquarters claimed that 19 coronavirus patients attended the rally in support of Navalny). On August 2, he was sentenced to a court fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,370). Akel pleaded guilty, but maintained that he was used as a “legal instrument” to punish the opposition.
In April, a Moscow court handed Lyubov Sobol a one-year provisional sentence of community service, in addition to garnishing 10 percent of her wages. Sobol must report to a probation office during this one-year period and any violations could lead to her suspended sentence being revoked in favor of real prison time. The opposition politician was found guilty of trespassing at the home of Konstantin Kudryavtsev — one of the FSB agents implicated in Navalny’s August 2020 poisoning (during an alleged phone conversation with Navalny in December 2020, Kudryavtsev unwittingly confirmed that the FSB used a Novichok-type nerve agent in the attack). The victim in the case was Kuryavtsev’s mother-in-law, who claimed that Sobol pushed her and broke into her apartment.
Sobol planned to run in the State Duma elections this fall, but called off her campaign in June. The opposition politician said she was forced to end her parliamentary bid after Navalny’s organizations were outlawed as “extremist.” “I can’t ensure the safety of my volunteers, employees, and donors during the election campaign. The state will have all of these people’s data,” Sobol said in a statement. “Therefore, despite the incredible support of the people [who] formed my headquarters, the hundreds of volunteers, the presence of an organizational structure, and a clear advantage over my rivals, I have to stop my campaign for the State Duma because of the recognition of the FBK [Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation] as an extremist organization.”
Translation by Eilish Hart