Thousands of Anti-Putin Protesters March in Moscow

MOSCOW (AP) -

Several thousand protesters marched through central Moscow on Sunday to call for the release of 20 people who were arrested after clashes between police and demonstrators in May 2012.

Some of them face up to 10 years in prison if convicted for the protest, held in Bolotnaya Square on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration to a third term as Russia’s president.

His return to the presidency saw the passing of new laws aimed at cracking down on anti-government protests and non-governmental organizations.

The protesters marched Sunday with a banner stretching across the street reading: “Freedom to the Bolotnaya heroes, the hostages of Putin.”

Some carried Ukrainian flags to show their support for the anti-government protesters in neighboring Ukraine. Of the 28 people rounded up in the Bolotnaya case, eight were recently freed on amnesty, several are under house arrest, but most have been in jail for more than a year and a half.

Just 3 of the cases were decided: 2 defendants got light sentences after cooperating with investigators. The third, Mikhail Kosenko, convicted of beating a policeman,was forced to undergo psychiatric treatment. He had a history of schizophrenia, but activists charged the court was  using punitive psychiatry against dissidents, reviving the Soviet-era practice.