Russia: Opposition Leader Under House Arrest

Russia: Opposition Leader Under House Arrest

A top Russian opposition leader has been placed under house arrest and banned from using the internet over allegations he incited "mass disorder" to overthrow Vladimir Putin.

The 35-year-old leader of the Left Front is facing charges in connection with a protest in May that ended in clashes with police and with plotting to conduct protests aimed at toppling the President.

A Moscow court ordered that Sergei Udaltsov could only communicate with lawyers or family and must stay at his home until April 2.

Prosecutors complained he had violated a previous agreement not to leave Moscow and the judge agreed he could flee or may try to "carry out his criminal intentions".

A documentary-style programme aired by a Kremlin friendly television channel claimed that Mr Udaltsov and his associates met with a Georgian lawmaker last autumn to raise money for organizing riots in Moscow and several other Russian cities.

Mr Udaltsov has rejected the charges and said the footage was a sham.

Before appearing in court, Mr Udaltsov said: "In my opinion nothing has changed that justifies putting me under house arrest."

"I responded to all the investigators' summons and I did not leave Moscow," he added.

Mr Udaltsov's lawyers said they would appeal against the decision.

The shaven-headed activist rose to prominence during unprecedented protests against Mr Putin's 12-year political dominance in the winter of 2011, and has been one of the key speakers at opposition rallies.

Since Mr Putin returned to the Kremlin after four years as Prime Minister due to presidency term limits, the Kremlin-dominated parliament has passed a series of laws cracking down on dissent.

One law increases the fine for taking part in unsanctioned protests 150 fold to 300,000 rubles (£5,698), close to the average annual salary.

Authorities also moved harshly against the feminist-provocateur band Pussy Riot, sentencing two of its members to two years in prison for performing a "punk prayer" performance in Moscow's main cathedral in which they entreated the Virgin Mary to save the country from Mr Putin.

Mr Udaltsov is the first prominent opposition leader to be put under house arrest since the 2011 protests.

Opposition and rights activists have denounced the case against Udaltsov and other activists as a throwback to the times of Soviet-era repression.