Russian prosecutors call for jailed actor's release after campaign

Moscow (AFP) –

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Russian prosecutors on Thursday asked for a jailed actor to be released pending his appeal, in an apparent climbdown following a high-profile campaign against his conviction over an opposition rally.

Actor Pavel Ustinov, 23, was this week sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for violence against police at an opposition protest, despite his insistence he was simply a bystander.

The conviction sparked a solidarity campaign, with supporters from film stars to priests, and saw hundreds of people demonstrate outside President Vladimir Putin's administration on Wednesday.

A Moscow court will consider the prosecutors' office request to release Ustinov at midday on Friday, the actor's lawyer told the Interfax news agency.

The apparent backtrack comes after a harsh crackdown on the protests that has seen six people sentenced to jail terms and thousands of participants briefly detained.

Ustinov's case caused particular controversy because the court refused to consider video footage that showed police in an apparently unprovoked attack on the actor.

The footage showed officers in full riot gear lunging at Ustinov -- who was standing with a phone in his hand near a metro station -- and beating him with batons.

Prosecutors said he resisted arrest, causing a policeman to sprain his shoulder.

The solidarity drive echoes a campaign for the release of journalist Ivan Golunov this year, who was arrested on trumped-up drugs charges, apparently because of his investigative work.

The journalist was freed after support from public figures and top newspapers.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Moscow this summer after authorities refused to allow opposition candidates to stand for the city parliament in September 8 elections.