Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was sentenced to five days in jail late on Saturday after he helped lead an anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow that resulted in clashes with riot police and dozens of arrests.
During the hastily organized trial, two riot police testified that they had been given orders before the rally to arrest Kasparov, one of President Vladimir Putin's harshest critics. Kasparov was accused of organizing an unsanctioned procession "of at least 1,500 people directed against President Vladimir Putin," the charging documents said, as well as of chanting anti-government slogans and of resisting arrest.
"What you read is the fruit of a fantasy dictated on orders from above," Kasparov told the justice. Privately, Kasparov told a reporter in the courtroom that the decision to arrest and prosecute him was "a hysteria dictated by fear."
"Putin's brakes don't work," he said. "I didn't hear any orders from police, unless you count the strike of a police club as an order."
Kasparov said he was beaten by police.
The violence occurred in the midst of an election campaign in which some opposition political groups have been sidelined by new election rules, or have complained of being hobbled by official harassment.
After a series of speeches by protest leaders at the rally, a group of demonstrators broke past police and marched toward the center of the city through traffic, chanting and carrying burning red flares.
They were stopped by lines of police with shields, helmets and body armor, who pushed or hauled them into waiting white police buses.
Kasparov was hustled away by a ring of plainclothes and uniformed officers as he spoke to reporters near the site of the march. Police also detained Eduard Limonov, author and leader of the National Bolshevik Party, Kasparov's closest partner in a coalition of anti-Kremlin organizations. Supporters said he was later released.
The court on Monday will consider charges against 25 other people who were arrested after the rally, RIA-Novosti reported, citing court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova.
Police in other Russian cities, including Nizhny Novgorod and Samara, detained local opposition protest organizers, according to the Interfax news agency.
On Friday, the Moscow offices of Kasparov's political organization were searched by police, who seized campaign materials, and the headquarters of the opposition Union of Right Forces party was hit by vandals, the groups said.
The Kremlin has mounted a major campaign to produce a crushing victory for Putin's United Russia party in Dec. parliamentary elections _ perhaps to ensure that Putin can continue to rule Russia even after he steps down as president in May. The constitution prevents him from serving three consecutive terms. During the rally, Kasparov told the crowd that Putin's Kremlin is using fear to help maintain power and is willing to go to any lengths to do so. The Kremlin "has no allergy to blood," he said. "But we can win if we are united."
Kasparov's coalition, which includes radicals, democrats and Soviet-era dissidents, has drawn wide media coverage but generated little public support.
Its ranks have expanded, though, as more mainstream political parties complain that officials have excluded them from freely contesting the upcoming elections.
Saturday's rally began on Academician Sakharov Prospect, a broad boulevard not far from the center of Moscow.
Protesters were surrounded by portable metal fences and funneled through metal detectors. Hundreds of uniformed police and interior ministry troops stood by. Men in black coats, who refused to identify themselves, circulated through the crowd shooting video. After the rally ended, a line of helmeted police tried to prevent a march and channel protesters back toward a nearby Metro station. But about 150 of the protesters, including young members of Limonov's National Bolshevik Party, broke free, waving flags and lighting flares, in an attempt to march to the Central Elections Commission, not far from Red Square.
As the demonstrators headed down a narrow street, riot police and plainclothes security agents began grabbing them and shoving them into police buses. Marchers were finally halted when police formed a line across their route.
Kasparov gave a clenched-fist salute and waved to the media and supporters from the back of a bus as it hauled him away. Separately from the marchers, about 70 other demonstrators managed to get to the Central Election Commission to present a resolution critical of the Dec. 2 vote.
Police in Moscow and several other cities have used force to break up several so-called Dissenters Marches in the past year, sometimes beating protesters with truncheons.
The city gave organizers a permit for Saturday's rally but forbade them to march.