Russian Opera Singer Jailed For 10 Years Over 2020 Rally Against COVID Restrictions

A court in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced opera singer Vadim Cheldiyev to 10 years in prison for his role in organizing a massive rally against anti-coronavirus restrictions in the entertainer's native North Ossetia region in 2020.

The Rostov regional court on July 19 also sentenced co-defendants Ramis Chirkinov and Arsen Besolov to eight and 8 1/2 years in prison, respectively.

Cheldiyev was found guilty of the distribution of false information about the pandemic, extremism, hooliganism, organization of mass disorder, and attacking a law enforcement officer.

His co-defendants were convicted of organizing an unsanctioned rally and mass disorder.

The trio went on trial in October 2021. All three pleaded not guilty.

On April 20, 2020, police in Russia's North Caucasus region of North Ossetia detained dozens of protesters when about 2,000 people gathered in the central square of the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, demanding the resignation of then-regional leader Vyacheslav Bitarov, accusing him of "unnecessary anti-COVID restrictions."

The rally was violently dispersed by police.

The protest was initiated online by Cheldiyev, who was living in St. Petersburg at the time.

Cheldiyev was detained in St. Petersburg after the rally in Vladikavkaz and brought to North Ossetia, where he was arrested and charged.

Dozens of participants in the 2020 protest have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms at separate trials since last year.