Protester flees Russia as two others tie the knot in jail

Anna SMOLCHENKO
The authorities have increasingly been cracking down on dissent

A protester has fled Russia fearing imprisonment, his lawyer said Thursday, as a jailed demonstrator married a young woman accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Meanwhile, two young men, who are standing trial on extremism charges, slit their wrists during a court hearing in Moscow on Thursday in a protest against prosecution, a lawyer said.

Aidar Gubaidulin, a 26-year-old programmer who faces up to five years in prison for throwing a plastic bottle at police, was among more than a dozen people who were arrested following anti-government protests demanding fair elections this summer.

Gubaidulin fled the country this week after realising he could soon be given a lengthy jail term amid an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition, his lawyer Maxim Pashkov told AFP.

"This decision did not come easily to me but the events of the last few days left me no choice," Gubaidulin said on Facebook.

"I've left the country and will not return anytime soon."

Gubaidulin, who tossed an empty plastic bottle towards police at a July rally but did not hit anyone, was arrested and charged with mass unrest.

He was later released from pre-trial detention and eventually charged with threatening to use violence against police.

Pashkov said Gubaidulin decided to leave Russia after a court this week upheld the conviction of fellow protester Konstantin Kotov, who had been jailed for four years over peaceful protests.

"This affected him very much," Pashkov said.

- 'Triumph of love' -

In a bittersweet development on Thursday, Kotov, 34, married a 19-year-old suspected extremist, Anna Pavlikova, at Moscow's infamous Matrosskaya Tishina jail, said Kotov's friend and fellow activist Alexei Minyailo.

Along with several other people Pavlikova, then aged 17, was arrested last year and charged with creating an extremist organisation and seeking to overthrow President Vladimir Putin's government.

Her health deteriorated in jail and she was later placed under house arrest.

"Justice failed them, Kostya will soon be sent to a penal colony but love will triumph anyway," Minyailo, who attended the wedding, told AFP, using a diminutive to refer to his friend.

Minyailo himself spent two months in pre-trial detention after the protests but was released after a solidarity campaign.

- 'Blood everywhere' -

Later Thursday, two men -- who like Pavlikova are accused of belonging to the same extremist organisation -- Ruslan Kostylenkov, 26, and Vyacheslav Kryukov, 21, slit their wrists during a hearing in a Moscow court, lawyer Pashkov said.

Kostylenkov also cut himself in the neck, and one of the men was taken to hospital, Pashkov added.

"There was blood everywhere," he told AFP.

Last year authorities detained ten people including Pavlikova, Kostylenkov and Kryukov accusing them of belonging to an anarchist cell that had plotted an uprising in what has come to be known as the "New Greatness" case.

Some supporters insist they have been framed by Russian security services.

Authorities unleashed a new wave of prosecutions after the summer protests in Moscow.

Overall six people received jail terms of between two and five years after the opposition rallies over elections in Moscow which were seen as unfair.

Under pressure from supporters the authorities made a few concessions, including releasing from prison actor Pavel Ustinov, after he was jailed for three-and-a-half years, and giving him a suspended sentence instead.

But as the wave of protests for the most part died down, the authorities once again began to tighten the screws.

This week investigators announced five more protesters had been detained.

The latest arrests brought the number of jailed people awaiting trial over the protests to seven.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Moscow this summer after authorities refused to allow allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to stand for city parliament in September elections.