Russian actor freed after public backlash
A Russian court has ordered the release of an actor whose prison sentence for dislocating a security officer’s shoulder at an opposition protest on August 3 sparked an outcry over alleged brutality by the security services and judicial injustice.
Pavel Ustinov, 23, a little-known novice actor, was freed pending the outcome of his appeal in a rare reversal by the Russian judiciary after an outbreak of public anger.
But others jailed during the summer protests to call for open elections remain behind in prison.
The conviction sparked condemnation by film stars, teachers and priests who joined protests against President Vladimir Putin.
Ustinov’s release was seen by some opposition activists as a way of de-escalating tensions while avoiding larger concessions.
The Russian authorities have dropped charges against several Moscow protesters arrested since protests began in July over the restricted city council, where opposition candidates were barred for running.
In June, police released the journalist Ivan Golunov in a drugs case that collapsed when the evidence was proved to be fake.
Russian judicial U-turns have provided momentum for campaigners and created a process with protests and online memes used to lobby for prison releases.
Celebrities who usually avoid politics spoke out in support of Ustinov.
The backlash in Ustinov’s the case centred around Moscow’s acting community, which is well-connected with government elites who seek to co-opt and be seen with popular icons.
The theatre is seen as an elite activity and therefore more free from censorship than film or television. But Moscow’s theatres also rely on political investment and the Kremlin has loyal actors and directors.
Amid discontent about the Ustinov case this month, thespians have called for a separation from the government.
“I recommend not co-operating with film companies, with producers, with directors who suggest to you openly propagandist projects,” said actor Nikita Kukushkin from the Gogol Centre. “Not to perform in those plays or put on shows in theatres where space is given to those who express their loyalty to the government. Because we, with our talents and our energy, are feeding this system.
“Don’t work with the presidential administration,” he said.
Ustinov denied the charges and his family thanked all those who helped.
“This is a victory of all of us,” his mother, Tatyana Ustinov, said. “I think we will win.”
The aspiring actor was sentenced to three and a half years in jail and prosecutors had asked for a six-year term.
Ustinov faces the hearing of his appeal next week and is not allowed to leave Moscow.
After anti-Putin protests during the summer, six people were jailed for between two and four years.
Ustinov’s case proved particularly controversial because the court refused to consider video showing the police apparently attacking the actor.
Pavel Ustinov. Picture credit: YouTube